The Joy of Joy

Life can bring great joy. Indeed it does so in every moment, regardless of whether we look up from our daily rush and see it. The Earth rotates and the sun slowly appears over the eastern edge of our sphere and we call it sunrise; and it’s beautiful. Perhaps the smell of coffee. Opening the windows to let a breeze enter magically into your home. The sound of birds, or frogs, or traffic or trains. It is all truly magical and wonderful. But we – the species for which a renaming was recently suggested to Homo prospectus for our ability to project our minds into possible futures – are running out ahead of ourselves and do not hear the moment’s music. This not hearing constitutes nothing less than the loss of life.

It’s true: Joy – real, thrilling, unmitigated and awe-inspiring joy – is the stuff of life par excellence, and it so abundantly surrounds us all the time that we could pass every moment of every day in slack-jawed wonder of it. Perhaps that’s why we choose to be largely blind to the joy of all those present moments: We believe that to get anything done, or to feel self-righteous or that we take life as seriously as we’re supposed to – that in order to reach any of those dubious goals, we must de-prioritize joy. So it is that, sadly, we have become joy-deniers. We even defend this practice of denial, no matter how wrong-headed it is proven to us to be. But this, for our own sake, must be changed.

 We can be forgiven for not having opened our eyes any sooner to the present moment. Change is something we humans instinctively shy away from, and since we so rarely dwell in the present, to move our experience of life back into the present moment is change on a grand scale. Indeed, it takes courage to face the abundant thrill of joy’s overwhelming avalanche into the present, into the living margin of our minds and hearts. To make use of that courage to experience joy is to stand naked to the wind of life experience, the true reality of the world and the human capacity to value it.

This is not to make a case for don’t-worry-be-happy Pollyanna-ism. It is instead a call to mindfulness. To experience real joy demands our presence in the moment, which is another way of saying mindfulness. Joy always travels with its companion happiness, and happy people are that way because they infuse their lives with life. Their present moments are full to the brim with purpose, with connectedness, with a sense of belonging. Incidentally, it is these elements that are the common factors among what have come to be called Super Ager communities that are scattered around the globe. These very long-lived people don’t ignore the present, nor do they become less engaged with life and its joys as they age. To the contrary: They spend the entirety of their prodigious lives thoroughly enmeshed in life. This only makes sense, since we have evolved as particularly social creatures. The way from mindfulness, to joy, to happiness, to connection, to quality of life, defines the path to actually being alive. Connected to the world, to our tribe and clan, to our kith and kin, we are most able to put life’s energy into our every moment, to see the joys in life, to thrill at their vital power of connection, and to be carried forward into our lives – moment by joy-filled moment – by the always rising tide of our humanity.