I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is impossible to change the world for the better without being a joyful person. While the world will inevitably deal us moments where we must grit our teeth and bear suffering, no enduring good will come of a life of continual painful sacrifice or doing what is distasteful because it seems necessary. Positive and lasting progress will occur only from those deeply in touch with what makes us more joyful.
When I speak of joyfulness, I do not refer to the feeling we have when we have acquired a new material possession or bested another individual in competition. It will not be found at Disneyworld nor will we ever get more than a glimpse of it on our television screens. It is not the sort of thing Madison Avenue will ever try to convince us we want. Not only is it not something others can profit from, those who wish to manipulate you into buying what they are selling are themselves incapable of truly understanding the concept of joy.
Joyfulness is derived from the simplest, most natural, and most human of all our experiences. It is something capable of being experienced by all but the very most unfortunate and miserable of us, is open equally to the poor as well as the rich. Joy is to be found in the humblest of meals. It is the sensation of the sun shining upon our skin, a gentle breeze, the sound of flowing water or the observance of a sunset. It is in the voice of an old friend sharing good news, even as it is in the smile of a stranger.
Those who are able to derive joy from the simplest and most natural of things are truly dangerous to the status quo, for they give truth to the lie that wealth and violence will ever advance human happiness. It is why the violent and closed-minded always wish to make the joyful suffer in order to prove themselves right and others wrong. Whether it be by overt violence or the little aggressions of trying to tear the joyful person down, those lacking joy, those lacking the understanding necessary to achieve joy, always seek to perceive the joyful as rivals. The joyful have no rivals. Joy, like the experience of a sunset or the sound of water, can be shared by everybody equally. Shared joy is joy doubled.
Yet in our quest for achievement and progress, we have walled ourselves off from joy. Joy requires a certain amount of leisure and silence in which to work its magic, where our society has killed silence and replaced leisure with never-ending distraction. We toil ceaselessly in order to chase a happiness that is ever illusive, or else fritter our restful hours in consuming externally-produced information and entertainment that serves only to sell another’s narrative. The voices from outside drown out the one within that alone can experience joy and make us aware of all the joy that is available to us, that is our right as human beings.
Often we seek to be good, ignoring Oscar Wilde’s advice that when we are happy we are always good but when we are good we are not always happy. We feel the need to be something other than what we are, and forget the miracle of our own being, instead pursuing fantasies of what we should be. We seek to be good, valiant, noble, self-sacrificing, when in truth simply by being human we will be all that and more. It is in our nature. That is what it means to be human, but we have somehow come to believe that being human is not good enough. In wanting to be something other than what we are, we have closed the door on experiencing joy in the most basic of human actions. Work has become a means to an end, something we dread and fantasize about escaping, when it has the potential to be a glorious expression of our capacity for creation and sharing. If what we spend most of our lives doing is not a source of joy but instead an unwelcome necessity, we are doing something wrong.
We struggle to acquire wealth, and once we have acquired it, we need to justify our struggle by purchasing things we don’t really need. We spend on lavish dinners while we forget the joy we experienced from harvesting from our own little gardens. We purchase berries out of season at the crowded supermarket, forgetting the miracle of chancing upon them while hiking on an early summer day. Convenience is convenient, but no substitute for joy.
In ceasing to be joyful people ourselves, we become something other than those who inspired us. No child was inspired to be a teacher except by a teacher who not only shared information but joy. Whatever imperfections they might possess, we like to be around joyful people. We flee from the virtuous or successful who are unable to share a spirit of joyfulness. We love and remember our elders not for the material possessions they proved for us but for the joy they were able to awaken in us.
What joy does society give us today? It seems so many of us dread the company of our fellow human beings nowadays, since the sharing of joy seems to be a thing of the past. We shop at stores that don’t offer us human interaction, again giving us convenience and speed at the expense of joy. We joylessly interact with machines rather than face each other, seeing in the eyes of others the joyless reflection of our own souls.
Joyfulness is not only our default setting, it is our destiny. If we do not look towards our future with the anticipation of joy, we are severely off-track. Regardless of the incessant call for individuality and freedom that is used to promote the path we are on, no group of free individuals want a future bereft of joy. No free thinker looks forward to a time when we are all ruthlessly competing to see who can become the joyless king of a joyless planet. If joy—true contentedness in both being and working towards becoming the human you were born to be—is not part of the equation that formulates your world view, I would humbly suggest you are walking a needlessly painful and ultimately futile path.