Joy has been described as an ephemeral feeling — fleeting — not to be depended on. Not as solid as anger or as heavy as depression, it occurs occasionally, sometimes unexpectedly, unlike more chronic feelings of anxiety or boredom. In contrast to depression or anger, which often come unbidden and stay up in your business until you dismiss them or they destroy you, joy is already here, waiting to be noticed. Often, we miss it because we’re not used to looking for joy or because we expect a giant, in-your-face emotion. Joy can be quiet and small, but it is always waiting for discovery.
When people describe the colors of emotions — red for anger, blue for depression, green with envy — joy doesn’t seem to have a color; maybe because we experience it so briefly. The bad things seem to last so much longer; their effect is so much more present.
Recently I’ve begun to believe that joy is a choice. It’s something you can wait to experience or it can be something you consciously look for. Joy is richer and more pervasive than happiness. If I gave it a color, it would be a shimmery, translucent neon green. It’s like a shiny jewel in the bottom of a muddy well — easily covered, but present and shining nonetheless. Like a teaspoon of vanilla in a cake, a small bit of it flavors everything.
Joy is something you can experience every day and it doesn’t matter if its appearance is fleeting — the important point is that it is there. It expands with the smallest bit of attention and, best of all, it accumulates.
You start by noticing what around you brings you joy; then make an effort to look for it. Allow yourself to experience joy no matter how much you think you should be sad, or angry or busy. Then, look again and notice what else brings you joy. The better you get at noticing what brings you joy, the better you get at finding it waiting for you.
In the midst of the most horrible experiences, people still experience joy — if they allow themselves to do so. In the wake of the death of a loved one, disasters that change an entire life, terror or brutalization, survival becomes the focus, but joy is one of the ways that promotes survival. A person who can still find joy in the splash of water, in the color of the sky, in the movement of a busy insect, in the change of seasons has the will to survive. Often that is what separates the people who live through horrendous situations and thrive and those who remain in despair. Joy keeps hope alive.
A brief experience of joy is not enough to pull a person out of the depths, but it can be a thread to follow. By choosing to follow that thread — looking for joy, expecting it, recognizing it — the thread becomes a path and the path becomes a way of life.
As you notice and experience joy, it accumulates and expands in your life. Focus shifts away from the things and beings that annoy us to the things and beings that bring us joy. Focus drives action and behavior; action and behavior drive our lives.
What if you looked for joy and expected to find it? What if you didn’t expect a huge explosive, exultant blast of emotion, but recognized instead the gladdening of your heart? What if you allowed the tiny joys to have equal weight with frustration in your life?
Look for joy like a shiny jewel in the bottom of a deep, dark hole. Look for it everywhere, in any way; pay attention to it — allow yourself to see and experience it. It’s worth the hunt because joy will flavor your life.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.