Whether the bubbles in your heart from seeing a theremin choir boogie to Beethoven, or the emotional overwhelm caused by a superbly executed symphony or theatre production, joy – full throated and unadulterated – strikes me as one of the most overlooked foundations of human experience. To be clear, I am not talking about happiness, which I would describe as a kind of passive contentment. I am speaking here of the responsive and interactive enlivening so often and easily expressed by children, and such a disappointingly rare occurrence in those who have grown to think they now have more important things with which to concern themselves.
The kernel of my thinking is that when we lose ourselves to the humdrum of work, bills, mortgages and insurance, all the hallmarks of having ‘made it’, we are in fact supplanting our selfhood with our assumed responsibilities. We no longer act as ourselves as person, but ourselves as functionary. Of course, most of us cannot continue in such a manner indefinitely, but often instead of ‘taking a break’ by reengaging our creativity, curiosity, and passion, we disengage even further to escape into late-night TV or a weekend party.
Please note: I am not advocating that jobs should be abandoned while we set up camps in wild places, eat locust, play guitar (and maybe some didgeridoo), and contemplate the awesomeness of wow. These can all be very fine things, but my critique is on the losing ourselves bit of the above equation, first by letting the urgencies of life overshadow the important practices of living, and then by opting to escape by the quickest route instead of re-investing in one’s own vitality. Jobs and bills tend to be how the world spins, and television is not some monstrosity in and of itself. What I question is the surety with which some are willing to dismiss wonder, joy, and excitement if not as childish, at the very least as superfluous and unimportant.
I have known very few instances of people watching TV or partying and having their lives enriched as a result. Maybe this is a bit much to expect from ‘Scrubs’ or a midnight cast hoopla at Mel’s Diner, but it’s not impossible . . . which is sort of the point. Both of these examples are instances where I have found some degree of enrichment. Those nights at Mel’s were some of the high points of my time for the very reason that it was simply us being our nutty selves with great (if sometimes convoluted) conversation, great company, and great food. Far from being an escape from reality, these get-togethers acted as the final movement in the symphony of a fully engaged day.
So, having gone on at some length about trading in joy for a paycheck and diversion, what is this joy, why would we want it, and how do we develop it?!! I’ll be addressing these more in future posts, but in a nutshell I’m am defining joy as the capacity and experience of fully engaging with and experiencing life in all its variations. This is the closest thing we have to an intrinsic reason for existence and is the means by which we gain a context from which to act. We rediscover this capacity by prioritizing and investing ourselves in it.
To my mind this is the call, the great work of our time: To step back from our daily grinds enough to reassess our way of approaching life, and to ground what we do less in necessity or obligation and more in our joy with the world.
I’ll be back soon. Stay in touch!!