I had a fairly tumultuous early adulthood with a lot of heartache, many tears, and the extreme desolation that comes when you lose something you believed in your whole life. Sounds dramatic? It was.
Now with the insight of parenthood, I can see how hard that period of my life must have been for my parents. I remember one particular night when my dad came to the far side of the house, two floors down to wake and sit by me, and rock me back to sleep as I was bawling so loudly, in my sleep, that it woke him. I had no thought at the time for how much my pain must have hurt them.
Years later, I was going through a difficult time in a relationship, when my mom said to me, “I just want you to be happy.” I looked over at her, with the wisdom of maybe 25 years of age, and said to her “Mom, I don’t want to be happy. Happy is fleeting, happiness fades, happiness is dependent. I want to be joyful.”
My mom’s not around anymore, so I can’t ask her now what she thought of that, but she did many times after that, end our conversations with ‘I wish you joy’.
And that is what I wish for my children: joy.
Everyone has this ‘pursuit of happiness’ but perhaps it’s the end goal that makes the pursuit so futile? That keeps us all chasing it? Because once grabbed, happiness can’t be kept! Happiness doesn’t stay forever! You can be happy in a new relationship, then real life sets in. You can be happy in your job, till your boss changes. You can be happy with your new car, till it’s first breakdown.
Happiness seems so dependent on what’s around us.
Joy is deep down. When I think of joy, I think of something internal, like a well-spring of life from which all other things flow. Victor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, in his book Man’s Search For Meaning 1 talks about the sheer and utter joy they felt in a beautiful sunset. 2 With the removal of everything good from their lives, they could still feel a joy from somewhere within themselves in something so small. (And not all of them either, just some).
Joy isn’t found in stuff. It’s not found in people – although I would argue that it can definitely be found in watching your newborn child – but it’s not found in a boyfriend, a husband, a friend. Joy is not something more money, a better body or a faster car can bring you.
And yet, joy can be found in connection with people, not the people themselves, necessarily, but the connection with them. With the sense of belonging to something greater than yourself.
Joy can be found in connection with nature. It can be found in dipping your feet into soft sea sand, or still-dewy grass.
It can be found in simplicity, much, much more than in pursuit.
It can be found in whatever Higher Power you ascribe to.
Joy can be found in acknowledging and showing gratitude for what you have, rather than always wanting more.
Wherever, or however you find your joy, use your time wisely, pursuing that rather than ‘just’ happiness, for happiness is little more than a Pond Skater, never standing still, impossible to catch, pitifully fragile, fleet of footing and leaving nothing but a ripple in its wake.
So that’s what I wish my children. I wish them a life filled with joy. A life where joy is attainable. A life where they can look inside themselves and find that something which will carry them through everything else life throws at them.
And I wish you the same.
I wish you joy, in all things.