Joy: Where does it come from?
What is joy? Where does it come from? Do I consider myself joyful? How about my closest friend, would they consider me joyful? What brings joy to my day? How does suffering (my own and that of others) affect my joy? Who is my joy role model?
These are questions that, until reading The Book Of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world, I had not spent a whole lot of time considering answers to. I knew that joy and happiness were different. I knew you could cultivate both and that I was actively trying to increase their amounts in my day-to-day. I don't think I could have articulated to you how joy, happiness, and compassion were linked or why I thought understanding that link felt urgent. I did know that this book spoke to me from the moment I laid eyes on it because of the word Joy and the two inspirational leaders on the cover. I knew immediately that I wanted to know their thoughts and to share them far and wide in the hopes of bringing more joy to our world that can seem wrought with ugly.
"Exploring joy is nothing less than exploring what makes human experience satisfying" (pg. 34) but you can't explore what is satisfying without exploring the suffering as well. Suffering comes in many degrees. Everything from being locked out of your house accidentally because you were in a hurry to losing your house to debt, natural disaster, or other unfortunate events are degrees of suffering. A common, more palatable contemporary word that may resonate more with you is struggle. Yes, the struggle is real...and necessary. Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have endured many degrees of suffering in their long lives and yet they are two of the most jovial personalities on the planet! "I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion" (Tutu, pg. 43). Coming from someone who willingly left the stability of life in England for the divided, dangerous existence of a black person in South Africa during the collapse of apartheid that is really saying something. He feels his suffering, and the immense struggles that the Dalai Lama suffered fleeing his native land, were key ingredients to developing life satisfaction and compassion for others.
"Ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others" (Tutu pg. 60) because this shows our compassion. However, in "today's materialistic life people seem mainly concerned with sensory experiences. So that's why their satisfaction is very limited and brief, since their experience of happiness is so dependent on external stimuli" (Lama, pg. 53). If a person hinges their happiness and satisfaction on the acquisition of **insert desired item here,** that happiness will pass as soon as the newest model is released and that person has to have the next one. Joy is about depth, longevity, and impact not about upgrades, new year models, and customized colors.
So if lasting joy doesn't come from materials, and struggle is part of it, then where does it come from? The Dalai Lama says that "the more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others" (Lama pg. 63). He doesn't just mean strangers. He means friends, family, roommates, coworkers, and others with whom you've developed real relationships. They don't mention it specifically but I'm certain they do not mean friends on social media who you don't know or can't remember the last time you physically sat at a coffee shop with.
Relationships, connections, friendships! That's where joy comes from. From the trust that grows in those connections. "The best way to fulfill your wishes, to reach your goals, is to help others, to make more friends...You show your genuine sense of concern for their well-being. Then trust will come" (Lama pgs. 61-62). When you show actual, soul level concern for your friend's well being (also known as compassion), trusting relationships are born and doing good things for them will build your joy. These relationships are what gets you through the inevitable suffering of life. The trust you've gained from others by showing them your compassion will come back to you in the form of THEIR compassion when YOU are struggling.
This conversation seems so obviously simple, that relationships bring us joy, but in a society that plays to instant gratifications, digital friendships, and expiration-date-limited satisfactions, the compassion, trust, and intense suffering the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu describe could certainly seem like fiction. Joy, kindness, compassion, deep friendships, all take dedicated cultivation, nurturing, and endurance. They aren't TV dinner concepts. You can't keep then on ice until you need them and then zap them into usefulness. That's my takeaway half way through this insightful book.
I would add that joy also takes courage because suffering will arise. It will appear in big and small degrees. Everything from lost items to horrific, shocking deaths. It would be easy to surrender to that suffering or to be the person that writes it off as someone else's problem. It takes courage to endure or to be the friend that reveals their raw compassion for another's situation. Seeing your friend through something, no matter how messy or difficult, then laughing with them on the other side of it like the Archbishop and Dalai Lama do in this book about their respective struggles...that's where joy is made. My joy role model is my aunt T. She has not only endured some intense suffering in her life, she has been there, no matter the time of day, during my struggles big and small. Her compassion extends beyond our family and her circle of friends to total strangers on a weekly basis. She's quick with a happy laugh or with empathetic tears depending on which the situation calls for. She is joyous, compassionate, and courageous.
What relationship do you need to nurture to bring more joy to your life? Who do you need to show some compassion to? Who do you know who's suffering through something and maybe needs your courage to endure? I'd love to hear from you! Post your thoughts below, shoot me an email, or get to me on the social scene.
There's a lot more to examine in this book so come on back for the other half of the talk on Feb 28th. Until then, happy reading!