Opening to Joy
I was invited to submit a meditation on joy this fall, and my submission was accepted and published.
Joy Is Hard
by Rev. Joe Cherry
Joy is hard. Joy requires us to feel safe enough, to be safe enough, to open to vulnerability. To feel joy, you must be brave. Joy walks into a room after the space has been cleared. Cleared of shame, Cleared of doubt, Cleared of self-recrimination. Joy is hard. Joy is hard and joy is worth the hard work of preparation. Preparing oneself and setting down all the defenses all the shoulds and could'ves, all the should not haves and might haves. Joy is worth the work. You are worth the work. You can start small: the simple pleasure of your favorite tea, the grand freedom of a full belly laugh. Invite Joy to be your companion.
Joy is something I’d like to have more of in my life. Joy feels freeing and light hearted. Like many others, I have been struggling with the state of the world in the past couple of years, and I don’t mean just the pandemic and the complications and limitations it has introduced to our lives.
I think about the political polarization in our nation and how more and more it seems harder to find a middle ground with people who are not of like mind. I sometimes worry that our congregations, where so many say they just want to be with like-minded folks, have become places of comfort, not growth.
I heard a podcast recently, How To Build A Happy Life, where the host examined the problem of raising people to have an easy time, to raise children in a cocoon of safety, and how that may prevent us from developing coping skills, and may actually rob adults of happiness. This wasn’t some crummedgon who talked about how he walked to school 7 miles uphill both ways in the snow. The show is hosted by Arthur Brooks, a PhD in Social Science and Harvard professor.
Is our searching for the comfortable and familiar actually decreasing our capacity for joy?
I was also exposed to the idea recently that the reason that time moves so slowly for the young and so quickly for older people is that younger people are constantly being exposed to new ideas, new challenges, and older people are not, so they have less new experiences which makes time appear to move more quickly.
Joy is also more possible if we do our best to work against what is called Negativity Bias, which is defined as: our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events.
Inviting Joy would seem to be, then, an intentional act. To be open to new ideas and new possibilities, to take in new information, to step out of our emotional safety and into a wider field, and to also notice, and then let go of negative stimuli.
As we enter the full on holiday schedule, I encourage you to let go of perfection, to embrace what is good, rather than to wish for what is better. To not only demonstrate kindness to others, but to accept it graciously when it is offered to you.
This of course cannot guarantee joy, because nothing can. But to do the opposite will surely make joy harder to find.