Christmas seems like a good time to gather up some thoughts about the importance of joy in our lives, starting with a quotation from Mark Twain:
“’On with the dance, let joy be unconfined’ is my motto, whether there’s any dance to dance or any joy to be unconfined.”
We know about joy as an end. As children, we counted the days ‘till Christmas. When the day finally came, we rushed down the stairs to open our presents. At last…joy!
But Twain is talking about something a little different…joy not just as an end, but as an energy we bring to each day, to relationships, to work, to problems.
Joy is all around us, as pervasive as the ether…in the sunrise, the full moon, the playing squirrels, the dance of light on water.
Joy is not about someday…it’s about today. It’s about opening each day with the anticipation and excitement of that child on Christmas morning.
Joy is deep. Joy is present. Joy makes life feel more meaningful. It embraces life, it’s engaging, involving, interested, open, light-hearted, zesty, adventurous.
Joy is the real point of work. It’s the point of relationships. Relationships are to be enjoyed rather than taken for granted or used. Joy may be the point of life!
We can never have too much joy and there’s always plenty to go around. Joy can be shared in humor, playfulness and stories.
Joy is the flip side of tragedy. A person who goes for joy in life will weather tragedy better.
Joy eases tensions in relationships and limits the damage.
Joy doesn’t take problems or disappointments away…but it can help us rise through our problems rather than being defeated by them.
An eagle was flying through a valley between two mountains when it encountered a terrible storm coming its way.
Rather than turn around and try to escape the storm, the eagle headed into the storm…and the powerful winds lifted the eagle up, up, up into the sunshine.
Joy is the wind beneath our wings.
While he was secretary general of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld kept a private journal which was published after his death as Markings. One journal entry reads:
“Life only demands from you the strength you possess; only one feat is possible—not to have run away.”
Once there was a very busy man who rushed off to work each day with his head full of all the things that needed to be done.
But every day, as he walked to work with his mind preoccupied, a short, chubby man followed him yelling, “Hey, wait up!”
Not recognizing the man, and not wanting to waste any time getting to his daily “to do” list, the busy man put his head down and picked up the pace. He finally ended up running to work. The short, chubby man couldn’t catch up.
This happened day after day, through good times and bad. The busy man kept running to work. And the short, chubby man never caught up.
Then one night, the busy man had a dream in which he stopped running and waited for the short, chubby man to catch up. Breathless, the short, chubby man said, “Thank you for stopping. Your life sent me to give you this message.” He handed the busy man a piece of paper.
The busy man was stunned to realize that he had been running away from his own life—and from the message his life wanted to give him.
He looked at the piece of paper. On it were written these words from the Roman philosopher Seneca:
“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”
The next morning, he looked his wife in the eyes as if seeing her for the first time. He played with his children. And then he walked to work, whistling.
“Today I am so busy.”
Sometimes I think the primary business of America is busy-ness. We almost seem proud of how busy we are!
But what are we busy about?
Bob Dylan narrowed the choices down to two in a line from one of his songs:
“He who is not busy being born is busy dying.”
I think we can guess what he might mean by the phrase “busy dying”.
It’s about a life that has given in, settled down and given up…a life in which there is no more risk, no more sense of adventure…a dried-up, raisin-like life with all the juice squeezed out…a life that is bored or boring or both…a life that has stopped growing, stretching or dreaming…a life that merely plays it safe.
These lines from Macbeth put it eloquently:
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
But what does it mean to be “busy being born”?
- It means living for something that enhances all the important relationships of your life
- It means living for something that guarantees constant growth every day of your life
- It means living for something that time and circumstances cannot destroy
- It means living for something that even death cannot defeat
As William James put it:
“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
In such a life, every new dawn brings a new “birth day”.
Here’s a thought to get you going this week.
You are a new answer to the question, “What is a human being?”
No one has ever lived life quite the way you are living it. Ever. And they never will.
But what do you do with that? Thomas Carlisle provides some thoughts:
“There’s a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or for worse as his portion. The power which resides in him is new in nature and no one knows what he can do and he doesn’t know until he’s tried.”
Note three insights here:
- “Imitation is suicide.” You can only be a so-so copy of someone else. But you are the world’s greatest expert at being you.
- The power in you is “new in nature.” You bring a certain, unique “you-ness” to tasks, relationships, and moments of your life. Mozart was asked what it was that gave his musical compositions that Mozartish quality. He said, “I suppose it’s the same thing that gives my nose it’s shape.”
- No one knows what you can do and you won’t know until you’ve tried.
Try repeating that last line to yourself in the mirror every morning for the next thirty days…and see what happens.