As a culture reasserting pleasure and delight into the realm of our lived experience, we have become really good at thinking of joy as an active verb. Living through a global pandemic, and now entering an economic recession has catapulted humans by the droves into lifestyles where seeking joy is an antidote to pain. People of color, immigrants, refugees, and queer community have begun to live out joy as a resistance to a capitalist, white, Christo-centric, patriarchal, hetero, colonial, cis-gendered society that assumes we’re all happiest (and holiest) living in that tiny bubble. Joy has become a statement against, a power wielded towards those that would and have attempted to squelch it. The NRA has a chokehold on policy makers, Artificial Intelligence threatens jobs, creativity, and the tenuous hold we have on an accurate narrative, the political divide is miles wide and filled with vitriol, and we are doing all we can do the enact change and exert a more peaceful will. At the end of the day though, we only have so much power and so much control over the environment we live in, and so we have learned that small joys and embodied delights make life livable.
And yet, working towards a tangible kind of joy takes effort. That is, it does if that is the way we approach it. If language matters, and it does, then why when we are already so tired and overworked are we using words like “get” and “obtain” and “seek” when it comes to joy? What would happen if we changed our posture into one of people ready to receive? What if we looked around in a quiet moment and noticed joy sitting right there instead of working for it? The way the dog sits at the most obtrusive spot in the hallway might be a sweet attempt to protect you from a potential invader. Joy. The way you can hear the checker at Target calling “Mahalo” to every customer before they leave when you are all the way over in the cosmetics section. Joy. The way your houseplants all angle themselves towards the direction of greatest light as they grow towards windows and skylights. The way vinyl crackles when the needle first touches it, and the sound takes you straight back to childhood because music was always meant to permeate each molecule of the air in that way. I am convinced that joy wants to crawl into your lap with the slow ease of your favorite couch blanket. I believe that joy is a faithful healer that we don’t have to ask for or work for.
If we think of joy as an act of rebellion, then we are making it about the world. We are giving part of joy’s power into the hands of systems and people. But if we exist in joy because it’s simply the deepest truth that we know, then it is ours alone. Perhaps ours and God’s to share. It gets to live in the union of the unique thing that makes us want to live and brings us delight and makes us grateful for this life. Joy is not a commodity to be used, even if it is used for good. Joy IS the spark of living. The most primal thing that we know how to do as humans. This might not always feel like a happiness joy, or an enjoyment joy. Waiting for the kind of joy that tastes like reality and softness might sometimes be tinged with sadness or feel like a boundary. But we know that it’s real when the undercurrent is peace, and our soul hums with warmth and stillness. We might have to wait days for it to come speak kindness to our pain, or an answer to our question, or withness to our loneliness. The hardest part is staying soft enough to wait, and to hold onto hope without jumping into what we can cultivate ourselves. Sometimes we have to go out and make our own beauty. I won’t deny that. Some situations call for action. But we can’t always wedge our way into joy like it’s a concert stage we are trying to get closer to. We invite it with fluidity, not hammers.
If you are too weary to take one more step, and working towards joy sounds and feels like more effort than you can imagine giving, then stop. Someone else will fly their joy flag while you wrap yours around you in the quiet. There is room for all of us in this world we are making. There is room for softness in your healing.