Have you ever heard someone say that this thing or that thing, or doing this activity or that one, gives them joy? Would it surprise you very much to know that, technically, they’re wrong?
I know what you must be thinking. How can I possibly know what gives another person joy? Well, it’s because, quite technically, nothing can give a person joy. Now, before you start rattling off all the things that give you joy, consider this: Saying that something gives joy is saying that joy is something that comes from an external source. If that were true, then the same thing that gives you joy would also give joy to someone else. A faucet will deliver water no matter who turns the knob. But we know that while kittens may make one person feel joy, another person may not like kittens but gets the same feeling of joy when they see puppies. If it were the puppies or the kittens that were giving the joy, then both people should feel a sense of joy when playing with either puppies or kittens.
Still not sure? Okay, take a moment and think of someone you know of whose circumstances you would consider to be discouraging, but who still seems to always be surrounded with an aura of peace and joy. Now picture yourself in their circumstances. Do you think you would feel a sense of joy in your life? If everything around you seemed to be falling apart and going wrong? No? Then, if joy is something given by an external person, place, thing, or situation, how can the person you’re thinking of possibly have a sense of joy in their life if they’re in a situation that wouldn’t give you joy?
The answer may surprise you. It’s because joy is a choice. Henri J.M. Nouwen once said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Now, for most people it’s probably not a conscious choice. It’s doubtful that you think to yourself, “After carefully considering the situation in which I find myself, I have decided that this is going to bring me joy.” But it is a choice nonetheless. It’s usually a subconscious choice based upon your preconceived beliefs and feelings about whatever it is you’re contemplating.
It’s why one person feels joy when playing with kittens, but another, who may have been scratched or bitten as a child, doesn’t. It’s why one person sees housework as demeaning, while another can feel a sense of joy in taking care of the people they love. It’s why death in one culture is a time of loss and sorrow, while in another culture it’s a celebration of the person’s life and their beginning of another, presumably better, existence. All of these factors and more determine whether or not you find joy in certain things, people, events, or circumstances.
The good news is that even though, strictly speaking, nothing gives joy, we have the ability to choose to take joy from anything, anyone, and any situation. Obviously, “choose” is the key word. It’s all about perspective. It’s a matter of examining a situation from all angles, and finding something, anything, positive about it. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it can seem almost impossible. But if you can find even one thing, no matter how small, to be positive about in a situation and then focus on that, it can help things seem a little better. The more you do that, the easier it gets to find the joy, and take joy, in almost any situation.
The choice is up to you.