How to Lead a Joyous Life
Joyous New Year to All.
I aspire to be a joyous human being. As with most aspirations: It is easier said than done. Easier imagined than put into practice. Easier to search for than to have
I want joy to roll like thunder across the hills and valleys of my life; I want surging winds of joy to carry me through loss and disappointment; I want joy to be an electrical rush that lights up my entire body when I succeed. What does it take to create a joyous existence? Is it possible to experience joy daily, not just in special circumstances?
Joy, I was taught by my mentor Elizabeth Kubler Ross, is one of five primary emotions. (The others are fear, anger, grief, and love.) Joy is not the absence of pain, just as yellow is not the absence of blue. Joy may bubble up out of grief. ("What wonderful times we had together.") Joy may underpin true anger. ("I am so thrilled to be able to stick up for myself.") Joy may sneak into fear, at least I presume so, otherwise why are people watching scary movies? Or is fear's joy the relief of discovering fear was unjustified? To lead a joyous life, one must be willing to see joy in every emotion and every situation.
Joy is the sister of happiness, gladness, and cheer, the niece of ecstasy, rapture, and bliss, and the mother of satisfaction and delight. Joy is lovers with beauty and order, abundance and harmony, safety and security. Joy adores spontaneity. Joy is gay. Joy dances. Joy sings a lively song in a major key. Joy rises up; it is elation. Joy spreads out; it is inspiring. Joy is hard to contain, and difficult to suppress. Delight is a bubbling spring that tickles the funny bone.
We must go to the wellsprings of joy. They will not come down off the mountain for us. We must court the joyous life: conspire with joy, entice joy, set a place at the table for joy, commit to joy.
Gratitude precedes and follows joy. When I am grateful for the gifts of life and a precious human body – even if it hurts – joy arises more easily. When I am grateful for the presence of others in my life – even when they annoy me – joy considers staying for a spell. When I am grateful for my problems and recognize the blessing in adversity, joy signs the lease. Then it is up to me to see to it that joy has a great place to stay.
Joy is often killed by degrees. Comparisons. Assumptions. Expectations. Routine. Inertia. Exhaustion. Self-pity. Envy. Contempt.
Leading a joyous life, like growing your own vegetables, requires consistent daily tending to the small details.
Joy is like a butterfly. It is not meant to be grasped, only experienced. It is sturdier than it seems, but unexpectedly fragile. Often fleeting, yet eternally present in memory. And, like the butterfly, joy may emerge after a seeming death, it may start out as an ordinary, unremarkable, many-footed thing. Never underestimate joy. It really is all around you, right now. To lead a joyous life is simple. One simply starts from the premise: "Life is bliss."
Joy is an option, not a given. We must choose it to make it reality. For example: When I took a three-year residential course – The Development of Human Capacities – with Jean Houston, I lived in a dorm with a shower that dripped unless tightly turned off. The first few times I went into the women's washroom, I turned the drip off with a muttered curse. ("A pox upon those who waste water.") The third time I did so, I grabbed myself by the shirt front, got up into my own face, and laid down the law: "You may ignore the shower, or you may turn the drip off with a smile on your face and goodwill in your heart. No other choices. Get your attitude together girl!" This is how one lives a life of joy – by choice.
My spiritual path keeps me focused on joy. As an ordained High Priestess of the Goddess, I am bond by her words: "All acts of beauty and pleasure are in honor of me." I understand myself therefore to be a priestess of joy.
I have taken refuge in the black hat lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, which reminds me that I create my own suffering by the stories I tell myself. (And suffering is the true opposite of joy.) I take refuge in joy. And the rimpoche, with a tiny smile, named me Goddess of Bliss. A worthy challenge: to live up to that name.
When I sit ZaZen, I am reminded me of the ultimate truth: This is it. Nothing to strive for. Smile.
This is how one lives a joyous life: by being its priestess, by taking refuge in it, by acknowledging it.
Helpers for leading a joyous life.
Joy is warm and sunny; so are the places where St. John's/Joan's wort (Hypericum perforatum) grows. Dropperful doses of the tincture of the cheery yellow flowers, taken 2-3 times a day, cures the blues, banishes pain, and engenders easy joy. While capsules are never to be taken with drugs, the tincture of the fresh flowers in vodka has been safely and successfully used to wean one's self off anti-depressive drugs.
Joy likes swings and slides. Take a child to the playground and see if joy doesn't come along for the ride. Repeat frequently.
Baby goats are the embodiment of pure joy. Spend as many days of your life as possible in their company. Be really present, so you can relive their capricious capers with vivid memories of joyous abandon. Learn a thing or two about kicking up your own heels while you're at it.
Cultivate your inner smile with the help of Mantak Chia. Following his suggestion, I ended my day with five minutes of out-loud laughter. Though I found it difficult at first, I persisted, and was delighted when my laughter echoed throughout my day. There is a YouTube, of course, of the Inner Smile Meditation.
Living the Good Life, How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, by Helen and Scott Nearing, remains one of the best testaments to the joy of living simply. I read it in my twenties and still think of my joy as based on their wise advice