Let There Be Joy

November 01, 2015

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Know what brings me joy?

Seeing joy spread into others’ lives.

When I started noticing my daily joys, I didn’t think much of it. They evolved naturally, out of a many-yeared gratitude practice.

I’d started with finding five things every day that I was thankful for back in 2006. It evolved naturally out of my exposure to The Examen, an Ignatian practice of looking over one’s day. I’d learned it while in college, five years earlier.

A friend once told me that in Hebrew (I’m not certain this is accurate), there wasn’t a big, bigger, biggest, and that the way to speak to degrees of something was to repeat the word. So “thank you thank you thank you” was the equivalent of biggest thanks. I would make my list of things I was grateful for and then I’d encircle them with the words “thank you.” If more “thank you’s” signified greater thanks, I was set. I’d infinitely looped my lists. I went through several “gratitude” notebooks this way.

Today, when I review these books, I can trace the story of my life in that moment. I can see which people I was spending time with. What my job was like. Or wasn’t. How my graduate program unfolded. It’s fascinating and super informative.

I didn’t keep the gratitude notes every day. Like the rest of my life’s practices, I’d cycle through it: sometimes, going on for months and months and others, only a day every few months.

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Nearly three years ago, that changed. I was on Facebook at the end of a night, and I posted on a whim, about something that brought me joy. Joy—in the sense of wonder, delight, awe. There was a smile, probably, or maybe some laughter. It very well could’ve been connected to my tutoring clients. Whatever it was, I asked what had brought other people joy. And folks chimed in! That night, one of my friends asked if I could do it again the next day. So I did. And the day after. And the one after that.

I learned a few things along the way. Thinking about things in terms of joy is not the same as thinking of things you’re grateful for, although there is overlap. Some days, when I did the gratitude practice, I’d be grateful for a house, or a car, or shoes to wear. I’d be grateful for people I’d talked with or spent time with.

With joy though, for me at least, there’s a different engagement with the lived moment. I’m present to laughter or to depth of experience or to things that surprise me. Joy helps me remember to have new eyes when I encounter things I have experienced before. Which becomes this funny cycle—because old things become new again. And then the new old things become old new old things. And so on. It’s amazing.

And what I’ve noticed, is that people like watching for joy. Joy unites us. It brings together people of different political ideologies and different economic demographics. It crosses race and gender. People of various backgrounds and mindsets answer when I ask about joy.

Today, my joy was seeing someone I know post their joys for the week, and then ask people what brought them joy that week. Slowly, we’ll spread the love. And the old will become new. New equals curiosity and openness. And those things? Those things lead to dialogue and conversation. Which leads to transformation.

So see, really, joy is all about transformation. Which I didn’t realize until I sat down to write.

My last thought for tonight—what brought you joy? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear.

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