Joy seems to be all around us at this time of year.
But is joy only for the good times?
Is there a joy that can help us through the bad times? A joy that is deeper than sorrow or suffering? A joy that can sustain us through the worst defeats and disappointments?
Surely there is. Surely there’s a joy we can access when we need it most.
Rollo May, the therapist, believes there is. He wrote:
“People should rejoice in suffering, strange as it sounds, for this is a sign of the availability of energy to transform their characters…Every moment of suffering is the opportunity for growth.”
Of course, May is not talking about pasting a grin on our face when our heart is breaking. This is not about faking it.
I think he’s talking about reaching down a little deeper…to a joy that underlies and runs through all of life and existence in the same way the invisible power of electricity runs across the world, through every town, and into every house, powering everything we do.
He’s talking about a joy that is there, available, as close to us as our next breath (when there might not have been a next breath). A joy that’s as new every day as the morning sunrise. A joy we can always reach for—in spite of the headlines and stresses. A joy that comes to us through humor, through sharing of stories, through a moment of laughter, or a quiet smile.
It’s a joy that connects us to nature and to every other individual. A joy that can help us do better work, handle problems better, and do less damage in our relationships. A joy that can help us keep going even when we feel like we’re running on empty.
Is joy the deepest thing in the universe?
The great composer Johann Sebastian Bach came home from a long journey to find that his beloved wife and daughter had died during his absence.
That night he wrote in his journal: “Lord, don’t let me lose my joy.”
He went on, in the years to come, to compose beautiful music that has brought joy to millions.
“There’s just never enough time.”
True? Or myth?
If time is money and there’s never enough time, perhaps we should go ahead and…
…Honk at the slow driver in front of us
…Run from task to task, because there isn’t time to do any one thing really well
…Cheat on that test in school rather than waste time studying
…Take relationships for granted because there isn’t time to be fully present with the people in our lives
…Get stressed out all the time because there isn’t time to stop and enjoy the moments
…Give up on that dream because we are just too busy being busy
…Adopt the opinions of others because there just isn’t time to think things out for ourselves
But what if it’s a lie?
What if there really is plenty of time for all the things we really need to do in life?
What if time is really on our side but we just don’t realize it?
What if there really is plenty of time to enjoy the small moments today…to do very good work…to put our whole selves into whatever we do…to look the people we love in the eye and let them know how much they mean to us…to pursue the things that matter today?
How do we get a better grasp on time? Maybe we just have to stop running.
As James Thurber said:
“All people should try to understand before they die…what they are running from, and to, and why.”
There’s a lot of pressure today to “toot your own horn.”
And it starts early. I heard about some parents who were fine-tuning resumes for their kids…to get into an elite preschool!
This pressure toward self-promotion continues through high school, college, the world of work, the online dating world, etc.
And I get it. In a noisy, competitive world, it’s easy to feel, “If I don’t make a lot of noise, if I don’t toot my own horn, I’ll get passed over.”
Of course there is a time and a place to put one’s best foot forward. We’re not arguing with that.
But isn’t it also true that the people who most earn our respect are not usually the ones who make the most noise about themselves?
Aren’t we most impressed by people who have the quiet confidence to let their lives and their actions do the talking?
As Mark Twain said:
“Noise doesn’t count. If it did you’d have to believe the hen laid an asteroid instead of an egg.”
And Baltasar Gracian gave this advice,
“Make the least ado about your greatest gifts. Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.”
Yes, a lot of noise can get us some attention in the short term. Watching fireworks is fun…for about twenty minutes.
But if we’re shooting for the long term, Gracian is suggesting: “Lead with your life. Put your life and your actions out there and let them speak for themselves.”
Of course that raises the challenging question: “What is my life saying?”