Moments of Joy
When I was at the paint store picking out a color for my home, the man behind the counter remorsed about how the only colors people pick for their exteriors these days are neutral shades. I looked around at the ads for house paint scattered about the store and realized he had a point. We paint our homes muted shades of grey, slate blue and brown, inside and out, turning our towns, our homes, and our offices dull and ho hum. It made me wonder, what happened to color? How did brightly painted homes and interiors come to be thought of as less desirable?
Animals use vibrant colors to attract mates and pollinators. Picture in your mind a yellow wall and then picture a grey wall. The yellow wall is full of personality and light, the grey wall recedes, is non-descript. Vibrant colors evoke feelings of joy and possibility, are daring and stand out; neutral colors are non-committal and safe. Neutral colors can also be appealing and restful, but they loose their unique charms when they’re the only thing on the menu. If we believe that bright colors and spontaneous expressions of joy are for children, ungrounded adults or the unhinged we play it safe by sticking to muted colors. The belief behind this is that serious adults reserve bright colors and joyful reactions for special occasions, that only children are free to express joy multiple times each day.
When we grow up we mute our colors. I’m not sure how this came about, perhaps it stems from the focus adults need to have on survival. Being an adult, staying alive and caring for others, is serious business. When we were children we depended on our parents to take care of us and didn’t worry about survival. Imagine not having to pay taxes, or drive cars, or get food on the table, or pay bills, or make multiple decisions each day. Children are free from all this so they can live in the moment and are better able to enjoy life’s small pleasures. Once we grow up we carry so much responsibility on our shoulders, we become too busy to delight in a beetle walking across the grass or to light up when a drop of rain falls on our cheek, or a rainbow infused bubble lands on the tip of our finger. These pleasures are put aside for the more serious work of survival, the conclusion being that joy and survival cannot contain the same space. This is an unfortunate conclusion. Joy need not be set aside for more serious endeavors but can actually enhance survival.
The experience of joy is more than a frivolous waste of time, it is a basic need that all creatures crave. A life without joy and color is a bleak life. The lamb bounds through the fresh green grass and the dog gets so excited to see his master he can hardly stand it. The joyless dog that remains tied up all day without companionship is not a healthy, happy dog. There is no reason why we can’t attend to survival and, at the same time, enjoy many moments of joy throughout the day. While this comes naturally to children, adults need to cultivate joy. So, what is joy and how is it cultivated?
Words like joy tend to be lumped together with words like happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, exhilaration, glee, euphoria, rapture, exuberance and bliss. Really, each of these positive emotions has different nuances. For example, happiness has a mellow feel to it, akin to contentment, whereas euphoria speaks of a transcendent, possibly ungrounded state of mind. While happiness can be defined as feeling good over time, psychologists define joy as an intense momentary experience of positive emotion. Being immersed and drawing pleasure in the here and now is another definition of joy. Who wouldn’t want more of that in their life?
When we notice the details of our life we see that nothing is repeated, each moment is fresh. Imagine making our child’s breakfast with the realization that this moment, just as it is, will never come again, that this is a precious opportunity to engage with life. In order to experience joy we must first transcend the temporary, overarching pleasures and pains and focus on our here and now. There is glow and magic in small things, small moments, and these moments exist regardless of conditions. When I was in the throes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at its lowest point I couldn’t even get out of bed. I found joy in looking out the window at the trees and that sustained me. As long as there is breath in our body there is the possibility of joy.
We take our lives just as they are, to do otherwise is to live in a fantasy where joy can not be found. Joy lives in the simple moments of our daily lives. Maybe it’s a cup of tea in the morning, maybe watching the rain come down when we’re safe inside, maybe sitting with a friend or listening to wind chimes playing on a summer breeze or watching a little flower make its way up through the cement walkway, or listening to a cello concerto or letting the colors in a box of crayons, or a Monet painting, infuse us with their light. The opportunities for joy are limitless. We need only look for them in our here and now.