Is joy underrated in our lives? I don’t think we are invited, whether openly or subtly, to search for joy in our lives as frequently as we are invited to pursue sex or to be desirable in a sexual way.
How much attention is given to the ways, or other ways, in which joy can be achieved ? Or to how we prevent it from filling our days? Or most of them at least?
I have been thinking about whether I do enough to welcome this state of being in my everyday life , so when I saw a book on it mentioned in a reading list, I decided I would find out what two octogenarian spiritual leaders had to say on the subject.
Although I’m not religious and I don’t think I really understand much about religion altogether, I found ‘The book of Joy’ (by his holiness the Dalai Lama and the archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrahams) definitely an interesting read which left me with some tools and a frame of reference for understanding more about this elusive emotion.
The book is an often literal recounting of what these two leaders had to say about joy when they met to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s eightieth birthday, and also includes findings from some of the latest research on the subject. A section is dedicated to the obstacles to joy, but what I found more interesting and less predictable is the section on what they consider the pillars of joy. The pillars of the mind are: perspective, humility, humour and acceptance. The pillars of the heart are: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. The idea seems to be that if you build on these you tend to generate more joy in your life.
It left me with food for thought about my choices and my actions and it got me thinking about what brings me joy. So here a few of the things that get me into a joyous flow.
- Mastering a new skill. Though it’s also difficult to measure myself against something I don’t know how to do, I find that when I begin to see that I’m learning a new skill, that, simply put, I can do something that I couldn’t do before, or that I can do something better than I could before, I feel uplifted and quite elated and happy with myself and with the world because of that. Sometimes it can be with something I learn with the computer, like recently with setting this blog up, or with my phone, but I have found greater joy in learning belly dancing moves in a beginner’s class, or , more recently, seeing progress in my drawing skills, as I’m teaching myself to draw. Whatever it is, there is something in me that expands and makes me feel positive when I see I’m acquiring new skills and what I found difficult becomes doable and natural, like I’ve added to myself and can move in new territories with some ease, but with the promise of much more to explore still.
- Sharing a meal with good company. As simple as this is, there is something deeply healthy about relaxing and eating together, around a table or wherever. It may be because I more often than not eat on my own that I really appreciate sitting around a table and chatting and laughing and listening and asking and generally relaxing and appreciating the food. That’s when I am most grateful probably, to have food to eat and other people to eat with. There is something about the non-competitiveness about it , it’s a break from any pressure of life and the opportunity to form a strong connection with who you are eating with, through the natural intimacy of eating together, through conversation, sharing ideas and experience, and laughter. At least that’s how I like to share a meal. (I realize I haven’t really been proactive about it, I just end up enjoying it when it happens, when I’m invited or when there is an opportunity, but I’m going to change that and with my new home probably start inviting people regularly. )
- Feeling well in my body, feeling whole. That’s why I do physical activity regularly. Whether it’s walking running or some tai chi moves, getting the energy to circulate in my body works as a foundation for positivity and happiness. Feeling active makes me feel that I can achieve things and when my body is happy, I am too.
- Teaching. Now I don’t mean teaching large groups, and I don’t mean admin work like writing a report, I mean simple straightforward teaching: helping someone to learn what they want to learn. In my case that’s teaching English, either one to one or in small groups. I like to slow down and tune in to who I am teaching, understand where they’re coming from, what they’re needs are and helping them to approach the language in a new way and improve on their mistakes and I enjoy guiding them in their learning process. Whether it’s bringing to life a lesson I have prepared for them or just one planned by others, I always feel better after a lesson and when I see progress taking place. Providing a safe place for students to learn and accompanying them on their learning journey is a source of joy.
I know we live in dark times, during which too many of us have to endure all sorts of injustices and other ugly stuff is happening every day and not enough care or are able to do anything about changing this. I know the system , be it patriarchy, capitalism or you name it and its dynamics are nothing to be joyful about, but I don’t think there ever was a golden era of humanity, at least now there seems to be more awareness about our limitations. I find it’s easy enough to be negative and find reason for despair at the state of the world, or about one’s specific life, but much wiser to make space each day for more joy and appreciation of the inherent beauty that can be found in so much of life, if only one is willing to open up to it.