Seeking Joy

When you’ve had joy, you want it again. That’s what C. S. Lewis said. Joy is addictive. Fortunately it is also good for us.

Capturing joy is a little like approaching squirrels. When one of our grandkids spots a squirrel, they lunge toward it. Inevitably the squirrel runs away. If we can get them to sit peacefully and watch quietly, the squirrel will settle in nearby. Joy gets closer and closer.

When we chase joy directly, it eludes us. When we peacefully and faithfully watch God work, joy comes closer and closer. So joy isn’t something we seek directly. Joy is the natural byproduct of being connected with the Divine.

Joy is also unique in that it operates on a spiritual economy where abundance rather than scarcity is the natural state. And joy is contagious. Your joy does not rob me of mine. Just the opposite. Seeing your experience of joy can fill me with joy.

Understanding Joy

I would like to understand joy better. I thought I might try to collect some thoughts and ideas under three general heads:

  1. What is joy?
  2. What can we learn from our joy histories?
  3. What principles are essential for a joyous life?
  4. How can joy help us live better lives? (I call this Joy Mapping)

A growing science of joy

I have been surprised to find that even respected psychologists are interested in stuff like joy. Jonathan Haidt, a remarkable psychologist,studies scientifically something he calls elevation. See if this definition doesn’t sound suspiciously like the workings of the Spirit—and something we call joy:

  • an eliciting or triggering condition (displays of charity,gratitude, or other virtues);
  • physical changes in the body (“dilation” in the chest);
  • a motivation (a desire of “doing charitable and grateful acts also”);
  • and a characteristic feeling beyond bodily sensations (elevated sentiments). (Happiness Hypothesis, Page 195)

An invitation

As I work on ideas about joy, I wonder if you would share your thoughts about what it is, what we learn from our joy histories, the essential conditions for a joyous life, and how joy can help us live better. Are you willing to share?

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  • Reply Lynn July 4, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    I am writing this when I should be going to sleep. Some things that bring me joy: my youngest grandchild grinning and crawling rapidly to me when I enter their home. Fireworks; we’ve been having them every night after the concerts in the park, and tonight [the 4th] there were those, and another set going off a few miles to the south. I must have music and color and light in my life. Writing and knitting and other craft-ings bliss me out. Feeling the Spirit and being moved to action brings great joy. The comment about “dilation”, above, reminds me of what Alma said about the word being like a seed, and how it expands within us. Happy Fourth, what’s left of it.

  • Reply Candleman July 5, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I have pondered joy at length and have come to a few conclusions. I think joy can only be experienced in the present moment and that it requires that I must get my heart, my head and my tuckus in the same place at the same time. I’ve written much more about that here:

  • Reply Charmaine July 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    CS Lewis wrote the story of his life and called it “Surprised by Joy.” I like that concept that joy is mostly a suprise. When we have expectations that life owes us something or that being valiant owes us joy I don’t think it necessarily comes. My 32 year old daughter went to the temple this week after spending 15 years of her life inactive. Oh, how I have fasted and prayed for this girl, but in many ways I didn’t think she would ever come back. The joy I felt in the temple this week was almost more than I could put my heart and mind around. It has also been interesting to see the joy the gospel has brought into her life these last two years. I am not sure she knew what joy was. She was so caught up in the worlds concept “fun” that she had never felt real joy until the spirit surprised her with its feeling of goodness and hope. So, I think we go forward seeking the spirit and not our will and the surprises of joy will naturally come in unexpected ways.

    • Reply Christi July 18, 2008 at 10:09 am

      I don’t know how to reply to Charmaine, I might have messed up clicking on Reply to Charmaine and it went to cancel reply.
      Anyway, Charmaine, I read about your daughter in the article in Inviting My Father…I wrote about my son who took his own life at age 15 1/2.

      I have a daughter who is inactive and have seen her be active and then not and then again and not. I would love to see her find the right young man as promised in her Patriarchal Blessing and get sealed to him in the temple.
      Truly that would bring great joy to my soul.

      So I am truly happy for your joyful experience with your daughter. As her inactivity has brought such sadness and disappointment in my life. It is hard to see her unhappy at times when she could have so much fullness of joy.

      I can’t wait to join you in your joyful experience in the Temple.

  • Reply Jim July 7, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    It almost seems paradoxical that something we would want such as joy cannot be obtained if we seek for it directly. Perhaps it is because seeking joy as an end is selfish, and selfishness is contradictory to experiencing joy.

    This talk by Elder Oak’s covers the topic of joy very well: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=628994bf3938b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

  • Reply Claudia July 12, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Thank you for posting this topic, and thank you so far for all of the replies. I am at a point in my life where I needed to hear these things. I have recently made a decision to go from working full-time to working part-time after 8 very, very busy and stressful years. It has been an interesting adjustment. I still wake up feeling like I need to be productive and get so much done (I have summers off from my regular job. But is a mother ever really ‘off’??) Yet I believe it is exactly that attitude — at least, for me — that Satan would use to keep me from feeling joy. So I agree wholeheartedly that joy, like our lives, should not be pushed. It is, for me, contact with the divine in life, which is often sublime and we will miss it if we are too busy or focused on too many things.

    By the way, the Lord had to wake me up at 4:30 in the morning to begin to get me to realize some of these ideas about not pushing myself so hard — or pushing those around me! Doing so would deprive them of much needed peace and joy. (Hmmm … there’s a question. How are peace and joy related?)

    I look forward to reading the links here. I also feel the ‘joymap’ would make a great FHE. Can’t wait to try it. Warmly, Claudia

    • Reply Christi July 18, 2008 at 10:41 am

      I can so relate! I’m trying so hard to work on a parttime business in selling plants, which I started the process a year ago so that I can pay for projects around my property to get finished. Meaning, pay for some professionals instead of waiting for sons or husband to finish.

      I stress myself by wanting it done right now and to start selling plants of which I have legally propagated. So that I can pay for outdoor projects to get finished and bring me joy! But I realize that my family is fighting me on this as my attentions are truly in my backyard and not in the house and I wear myself out to not be a joy to anyone else.

      So I would talk with the Lord, as I have plenty of quiet, alone time while I am digging in the dirt. I think that is what I love the most is my reflective time alone. As I have a very ill brother with Leukemia that our family has been helping out, emotionally, physically, mentally and financially.

      So there are so many frustrations that I just have to burn off and my profits in my business were to also add to the financial needs of my brother and his family.

      I had to stand back and think it over, I really don’t need to do all this work, my husband’s business takes care of all our needs and some wants too.

      I’m just impatient to be happy and have peace. As there has been so much stress in my life, my son’s suicide and then parents and sister in-laws deaths in the past 5 years, added surgeries on top of that, that I just wanted earthly projects to get finished so that I could enjoy life again.

      So I purposely force myself to work physically hard and cause me to be useless to all those around me that need my joyful spirit. (I live on an acre and I’m basically redoing a lot of landscaping or lack of landscaping)

      So I reevaluate my goals and for what purpose and I feel much better when I let go of some of these unrealistic goals so that I can attend more attention to my family and the house.

      I feel more peace and joy by doing this and also my family does too and they are more joyful towards me, which brings on the help I need. Funny how that happens,

      I like, Dr Wally, have had tears streaming down my face in Sacrament Meeting and singing the hymns, I feel tingling, goose pimples, electricity going throughout my whole body as I listen to the music or sing it.

      As the words in the hymns are so powerful than they ever were to me due to the loss of my son.

      Other times I do just feel Joy as I go about my duties and I notice I feel no stress or compulsion to do more than is needed. Also, what is needed seems to appear when least expected.

      • Reply admin July 22, 2008 at 11:44 am

        Phew. What an honest analysis. Sometimes busy-ness gets in the way of joy and love–and maybe peace too.


      • Reply Claudia July 23, 2008 at 5:53 am

        Christi — Wow, I thought I had been through a lot, but my heart truly goes out to you, especially with the loss of your son and other family difficulties. My warmest thoughts to you!

        I agree, there are some projects that add greatly to our quality of life and need to be done YESTERDAY, (or at least be given priority) but I am finding patience with myself even as I compose my daily ‘to do’ lists and learn to ‘prune’ them (smile) to what is absolutely necessary for the day.

        I also am making an effort to compliment myself and others everyday on what we have accomplished so I stay positive and less impatient for the end result!

        I know we are counseled to find joy in the journey, but how to deal with that phenomenon of impatience. Hmmm … you’ve really hit on something else to ponder! If my expectations are contributing to my impatience, then maybe I need to take a look at my expectations? Are they realistic? Probably not.

        I have experienced much loss and stress over the past few years, and I — like you? — just wanted to push myself and get back to a normal life again. I believe my body is now telling me what my mind tried to override — that I need to just be, and trust Heavenly Father to guide my steps day by day. I so enjoyed your sharing of how this process works for you and brings you joy!

        I hope as I prune out the unnecessary in my life, that new visions and opportunities GROUNDED IN PEACE, NOT IN IMPATIENCE OR UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS will be opened to me. It is actually already happning, albeit very slowly. The wonderful thing is that I am beginning to recognize more and more when my spirit is going to that unproductive place and I can help myself slow down a bit.

        Thank you so much for your reply. Best, Claudia

  • Reply Justin July 16, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Hi Wally

    A couple of thoughts…

    I find joy comes to me, as you have said, in often unexpected ways. As previously stated by your readers, children are a wonderful source of joy – as are spouses. A touch or kiss elevates me, as does a smile or meeting the eyes of someone I love. Likewise, nature and the wonders it serves us with bring a sense of awe, gratitude, and joy.

    I find joy in service. Home teaching, fellowship, mowing someone’s lawn, preparing a talk, sharing counsel. Making a contribution, not out of obligation but out of desire to serve, is a sure way to feel joy.

    However, the times I feel most connected to “happiness” are the times that I am living in alignment with the values that I hold to be true. As I act in a manner congruent with my beliefs I feel joyful. I wake up and pray, read my scriptures and begin my day. I am kind, thoughtful, and charitable to my family and associates. I am productive, returning home after a disciplined day. A gentle, soft night with my family closed with a benediction of gratitude. A day where I act as I believe. This brings a sense of contentedness, meaning, enlargement, and “joy” or “happiness” that cannot be felt when we act below the standards and values that God has proclaimed as eternal.

    • Reply Claudia July 16, 2008 at 11:50 pm

      Justin — thank you for this lovely reminder. I’ve been thinking about joy since I first read these posts, and a couple of things have come to mind which you have reiterated for me. First, that joy comes when we are acting according to higher realities — and truer ones than what mortal eyes alone can perceive. Second, and closely linked, is that when we act according to our truer, divine natures, we feel joy. So, as you said, giving service, sharing gifts (making contributions), living according to divine laws, etc … I am strengthened when I ask myself, “What is my true, divine nature, and is it being realized in my day to day living? Am I developing and sharing my gifts?” Thanks again for articulating so well what I was intuitively sensing. Best, Claudia

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