Sunday, July 26, 2020

Finding the Joy We Can, Opening to New Sources of Joy

Welcome!  I am Michelle Paquette, and my pronouns are She/Her/Hers.

The whole world seems to be afire with tensions and strife.  TV, the Web, and my E-mail box are full of conflicting things demanding my urgent attention.  How can I juggle so many different things and find my own path? How can I find joy in the middle of all this?

Joy.  It’s something I would like to find.  Now, happiness is an emotion that brings bursts of intense pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction, but joyfulness…. Ah!  That’s a stronger, longer-term state that results in feelings of inner peace and contentment.

I’ve experienced many moments of happiness in my life, but relatively few moments of joy.  I spent too much time distracted, the “squirrels” in my mind restless, driving me to constantly worry about what might be, what might have been, all that two-in-the-morning sleepless night stuff.

I really did think that joy was something talked about, but not experienced.  Then I learned better.  I was so busy fretting over things that I missed the moments of joy in life, skipped right over them while I kept asking myself “What next?” as my mind spun in little circles.

Well, I discovered that asking “What next?” over and over quickly reaches the point where the answer is “I just don’t know.” Circling back and repeating this over and over really doesn’t accomplish anything useful! Silly squirrels!

“Whereas happiness can be easily manufactured, joy comes through setting up the right conditions for it to suddenly appear," says Forrest Talley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California. "Happiness can be brought about by a good cup of coffee in the morning or a funny movie. Joy, on the other hand, is more difficult to cultivate." 

The cultivation of joy is an ongoing process that takes time.  I had to develop some new habits, new practices, so I wouldn’t miss the joy I encounter on my journey through life.

Joy really isn’t in achieving some distant goal.  Oh, that may bring well-earned happiness, but we soon adjust, make this goal our new normal, and will find ourselves creating some new distant goal to be unhappy over not attaining at once.  This behavior of reaching, adjusting to, and seeking a new goal even has a name, the “hedonic treadmill.”  That doesn’t sound very joyous, does it?

Those goals provide us with a sense of achievement, a feeling of certainty when we can reach them.  But between these goals, we spend far more time on the journey.  

“I got so focused on the difficulty of the climb that I lost sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb.”

 — Oprah Winfrey

I’ve learned some things in my search for joy that I’d like to share.

We can find joy every day, as part of our journey, if we only take a little time to notice it.  When we set up the right conditions, we can notice joy, and we can embrace and extend these bits of inner peace and contentment as they arise.

Mindfulness practice, a way to settle the mind, calm ourselves, and focus on the present, where we are.  The “squirrels” running around in our minds often distract us from the present, overwhelm us, and lead us to miss moments of joy.  Taking a few minutes to calm ourselves, just breathe, and focus on the act of breathing, letting go of the “squirrels” and simply being aware of ourselves, our breath in our body, and nothing more can be very calming.  Consider joining our Friday 10 AM meditation, or our Vespers service Wednesdays at 6:30.

If we don’t mind the triteness of it, a gratitude diary might help.  At the end of each day, we just jot down a few things that we are grateful for, or that brought us joy, perhaps a few places or activities where we felt calm or at peace.  This both encourages us to notice these moments, and can give us ideas of other, similar experiences we might deliberately incorporate in our lives.

It’s a wonderful thing, finding these moments of calm, noticing that which brings us joy and taking a moment to embrace it.  Let’s open ourselves to discovering and embracing a little joy this morning, as we worship together.