Finding joy: Joy not happiness.
They are different, aren’t they?
Joy is personified by this running, grinning dog. Maybe he is running toward his favorite human or perhaps she is racing after a ball. Regardless of what the dog is going for, it’s evident that joy isn’t something he has to find.
But us humans? Far more complicated, isn’t it?
Or is it? Could our happiness be under our control? Willed…intended?
Take a couple of minutes to reflect on three things, people, beings that bring you joy. And I mean that panting, passionate sloppily joy-filled grin on that dog. Not merely happy or content.
Can’t think of three?
Try again. It’s important.
How about the fact that finding joy tends to make you live longer?
New York Times reporter John Leland recently published a book with this intriguing title: Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old. You may have noticed that I write a lot about happiness.I do that because my life and those in it have taught me that happiness is not a feeling. It is instead a decision- perhaps the most critical one we ever make throughout our lives. Unrelated to age because this statement of Anthony de Mello is one I have never questioned, it is self-evident.
“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.”
Culturally, however, we make assumptions that the young are happier than the elderly…those in their thirties and forties have fewer physical challenges than do those in their eighties and up therefore the young must be happier, more joyous than their elders, right?
The ‘oldest old’ is a new phrase for those who are eighty-five years old and up. One of the fastest growing age groups in America. Author Leland writes, “With them, I had to give up the idea that I knew about life…I gained the most from accepting the idea that my instincts told me to reject. My instincts thought they knew what it was like to be ninety, but they didn’t, and as soon as I quieted them, the learning got a lot easier. Being as expert is exhausting. Being a student-letting go of your ego-is like sitting for a banquet at the best restaurant you’ll ever visit.”
Gerontologists consider the tendency to sustain mixed feelings, rather than try to resolve them, as a component of elder wisdom, a recognition that life doesn’t have to be all good to be good, and also that it never will be. Troubles are always with us, and getting rid of this one or that won’t make us happy; it’ll just move another hardship to the head of the class. Karl Pillemer of Cornell makes the distinction between “happy in spite of” and “happy if only,” the former being a benefit of old age, the latter a vexation of youth. “Happy in spite of” entails a choice to be happy; it acknowledges problems but doesn’t put them in the way of contentment. “Happy if only” pins happiness on outside circumstances: if only I had more money, less pain, a nicer spouse or house, I’d be happy as a clam… Fulfillment need not be what’s just around the corner. In the end, wisdom lies in finding it in the imperfect now.