I have addressed the topic Beginning Again With Joy as the subject of a past speaking engagement, but I feel compelled to write about it because I can see that joy is missing in so many lives. It’s certainly obvious how much joy is missing in our world.
Part of the problem is, people have become preoccupied with pursuing happiness. And happiness is not the same as joy. We tend to equate happiness with joy, but they’re two entirely different ideas because they spring from two different sources. Happiness comes from momentary happenings in the world around us, while joy originates from the Spirit living within.
When I speak of joy, I’m not talking about the instant rush of pleasure we might feel in response to some event. I’m talking about a feeling and a grace that arises from inside us that can be a constant companion, even when we’re facing challenges in our human experience.
Happiness is something that happens to us, and it only lasts as long as the happy event lasts. Joy is evidence of the presence of God in our life, and it’s a constant, providing we don’t shut it down or slow it down, interfere, or get in the way of its flow.
How do we limit the flow of joy in our lives? Well, I’m sure most of you have heard about a “set-point” of happiness. This theory suggests that our habit level of joy, what we’re used to, is often ingrained in our consciousness early in life. It then tends to remain at a constant level to which we always return after our momentary spurts of happiness. That set-point, or joy level that we’re used to will determine our “perception” of what we see, hear, and experience in the human world. (You might want to read that again so you make sure you “get” it!)
So, a person with a high set-point of joy will notice more beauty, goodness, that which is positive, uplifting, inspiring and courageous. Such a set-point will be anchored in hope, faith, and victorious living. But a person with a low set-point will, in spite of feeling an occasional sense of giddy pleasure, always return to a perception of life that notices what isn’t right, what’s wrong with other people, what’s wrong about themselves, what’s missing, and so on. So the idea is to find ways to lift one’s set-point of joy higher and higher as they journey through this human experience.
Many of us have lost touch with the true feeling of joy because we have become lost in the pursuit of happiness, pleasure, more and better, bigger and faster. We have amped up the need for more and more in order to feel anything at all. Our society has become addicted to overstimulation and escapism in order to cope with all the stress we’ve created in this relentless pursuit of happiness. It’s made us edgy, touchy, impatient, grumbly, and short-tempered.
Have you noticed how many people in public service jobs have buried their joy so deeply that what they mostly bring to their jobs is resentment and cynicism? Have you noticed how many people have grumpy, bossy personalities because they’ve lost touch with their joy?
I remember reading a story about a man, we’ll call him Tom, who walked into his doctor’s office and was greeted by one of these grumpy, bossy people who happened to be the receptionist. Tom told her that he had come in to have the doctor take a look at a sore that had suddenly cropped up on his face.
She said to him, “Down the hall, first door on the right, and take off your clothes.
“But” Tom said, “It’s just a sore on my face. I don’t need to do all that.”
She again said with a bit more intensity, “Down the hall, first door on the right, and take off your clothes!”
“But … ” Now she really let him have it! “Down the hall, first door on the right, and take off your clothes!!”
So, he followed orders and went down the hall, opened the first door on the right, walked in and there was another man already sitting there in his underwear, looking very confused. Tom said to him, “Wow! That receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a sore on my face, and she told me to come in here and take off my clothes.” The man in his underwear said, “You think that’s crazy? I’m the FedEx delivery guy!”
We run into people like this receptionist all the time. People who are out-of-sorts because they’ve lost touch with their joy.
Their set-point is anchored in self-pity, blame, shame, resentment, and other perceptions that interfere with the flow of grace and joy. When people lose touch with their joy, they become less and less compassionate and more and more inflexible They take their resentment out on people around them with nasty attitudes and unbendable demands.
In Galations 5:22, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit, which refers to the demonstration of Spirit in our lives. He states, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” He also says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” In other words, if we live, and move, and have our being in the all-pervasive Presence of the One Source, then it’s our responsibility to bring the qualities of God forth into our experience of life.
The very first “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul mentions is love. The next is joy. The fact is, a lot of people are looking for love in all the wrong places, and likewise, they’re looking for joy in all the wrong places. The result is, they look alive, they sound like they’re alive, but they’re dead to an inner connection with the joy of Spirit. Their happiness has become dependent upon what’s happening to them. If people treat them good, if things are going well in their life, if they are “getting” from life that which they expect, then they’re happy. But if circumstances aren’t favorable, if they aren’t getting from life that which they expect, then they’re unhappy. As a result they begin to dry up inside, thinking of everything they have to do as just some thankless, joyless routine.
I think that this spirit of discontent, this feeling of unsatisfied expectations, is one of the greatest joy-stealers. Many people are discontent with the way their lives are progressing. Maybe the expectation of some wonderful, high-paying job hasn’t shown up. Perhaps their expectations for a fulfilling relationship hasn’t happened. Or maybe family members aren’t living like they’re expected to.
I find it interesting to notice that St. Paul calls contentment a “secret”, implying that there’s a kind of mystery about being content. In Philippians Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Contentment doesn’t come when we have everything we want, but when we accept as good that which we have, and begin again with joy.
Another joy-buster is unresolved conflict. When we allow conflict between ourselves and another person to continue, our connection to the source of joy within us becomes blocked. This doesn’t mean that joy goes away, but we lose touch with it. Prolonged anger and resentment, as well as an unbendable and closed attitude . . . doesn’t leave much room for the joy of Spirit to find its way into our lives.
In 1 Corinthians 13, it talks about how love keeps no record of wrongs. So if you’re still keeping track of other people’s mistakes, the fruit of joy will be squashed.
Other joy-stealers include unresolved guilt, where a person is unable to accept and forgive themselves.
Another joy-buster is the wounded ego, where we take personally that which someone else says or does, and continue to let it offend us, hurt our feelings, and haunt us.
Now I’m not saying that these things don’t happen. People don’t always say the right things, or behave the way we expect them to. Sometimes people do offend us and hurt our feelings. As a result we feel unloved, unneeded and left out. And there we stand feeling joyless – back at our old set-point.
As I was putting my thoughts together about this subject, I asked myself, “What is it that comes with the feeling of joy and distinguishes joy from a feeling of momentary happiness?” The first thing I noticed was that true joy is uninterrupted and sustainable, without any help from outside sources. It plays like soothing music in the background of whatever is happening. It’s there not only in response to happy events, but just because we allow it to flow.
One thing that always suppresses our joy is the unrealistic expectation that something or someone will come along, change things and make us happy. What we get to realize at some point is that we are already whole and complete. There is, in Truth, nothing anyone can add. It’s all about our rediscovery of who we really are. When that realization dawns, really dawns upon our awareness, the joyful, lighthearted energy of Spirit begins to express itself through everything we do. And our desire to give that joy away, with no expectations for anything in return, begins to expand and grow and bring more joy. Nothing is dull, nothing is boring, nothing is anything but a kind of synchronistic flow of well-being.
Friedrich von Schiller was an 18th century philosopher and poet, and author of Ode to Joy which provided the words for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Schiller explained that joy is found with the balance and union of reason with feeling, and then making each moment in life a game. The problem is, most people think that making life a game is not something a responsible person does. Most people have let expectations lead them down the path of chronic seriousness and critical judgment. They think of life as a duty of some kind. But when we allow ourselves to become “open” to the task at hand, and open to the power and flow of Spirit as we do what’s before us to do, we transform duty into joy, and suddenly everything changes. Myster Eckard called it practicing the presence of God.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes: “If there is no joy, ease, or lightness in what you are doing, it does not necessarily mean that you need to change what you are doing. It may be sufficient to change the how. ‘How’ is always more important than ‘what’. See if you can give much more attention to the doing than to the result that you want to achieve through it. Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease.”
When we let joy enter into everything we do, joy intoxicates and opens the doors to our own heaven on earth. The sad thing is that society has suppressed joy and replaced it with the search and pursuit of happiness. Happiness seduces people with a false promise of stability, contentment, security and peace, while joy is always leading us into an ever-expanding world as we open ourselves to more of that which life has to offer.
I’ve said it many times: “Joy keeps the flow moving.” I suppose it’s also true that the flow keeps the joy moving. One of the things we can do to keep the joy moving is to turn our minds toward gratitude.
Gratitude is one way to allow our joy to flow back to God and thereby keep the flow and our joy moving.
Another important thing to remember is that joyful people attract what they want in life more often than joyless people. When we focus our thoughts and feelings on the loving God within, we draw to us that which meets our needs, that which is good, uplifting and healing.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom, and all shall be added unto you.” Seek ye first the Kingdom, and you will begin again with joy.
So remember … the moments in which you feel the most joy-filled are not just moments of temporary happiness. They are opportunities to lift your perceptions and increase the frequency and intensity with which to feel joy in the future. In every present moment, begin again with joy!