The Joy-Disaster Spectrum


There is no obvious starting place with disaster. It’s an abstract term, like chaos or mayhem or anguish. Or joy, for that matter. Why mention joy on that list? Because disaster, mayhem, chaos and anguish exist along a spectrum of pathways of life experience. And the signposts along that pathway, signs that show both directions, are sponsored by joy.

On an imaginary scale of those pathways are found a gradation of emotions that we feel in a day. Words indicating one end of this scale would be joy, happiness, comfort, home, family, love, security, health, wisdom, understanding, patience, and caring.

Toward the other end of this scale are disaster words like chaos, mayhem, anguish, harm, uncertainty, fear, trauma, upheaval.

If perhaps the everyday nature of this scale is still not apparent, a quick glance at the words in between those extremes offers help. These are words like impatience, tedium, indecision, complacency, arbitrariness, intolerance, and anger. With these middle words, the scale now begins to make sense, because many of us spend much of our lives navigating the strictures of these middle words; mercifully we are not thrust toward the disaster end of the spectrum, but neither do we commit to the positive, giving ourselves over to the actions that are required to move our experience of daily life toward the joyful end of the spectrum. With this understanding in mind, this: Our subjective experience of life is guided by our own expectations, informed by what we see as our normal and deserved place along this spectrum.

Let’s take an example. Consider the person being interviewed after his home flooded who says something like We lost everything. But everybody’s safe, and that’s what matters. He says it with a smile and he means it. He is experiencing joy amid the chaos, finding solace and comfort within the paradigm of disaster. In terms of our spectrum, he is leaning toward the joy end.

Meanwhile, at the other end, imagine the typical tale of a rich man who cannot find happiness anywhere. His reply to congratulations for closing a big contract, say, is met with Yeah, but it’s not what it could have been. There is no satisfaction with his obvious success there – further demonstrating, incidentally, that success in financial terms brings the possibility but no guarantees of security and joy.

Our “place” along the joy-disaster spectrum also forms how others see us. Each of us has this spectrum within our heads, and we measure our friends and acquaintances with it. Such-and-such person, we may tell ourselves, is the walking rain cloud, while this other one is sunshine personified. Perhaps this is our lizard brain seeking to form tribe, to mold our community, to set up our own environment to reinforce our personal tendencies.

Is tending toward joy a virtue? That is another question altogether. It is enough to say that joy is its own reward. People gravitate to it; and the ones who don’t perhaps don’t belong in your club anyway. Feel joy amid the chaos. Rebellion takes many forms.