Thursday, January 26

The Definition of Joy

I am not old enough or experienced enough in life to give a definition that I came up with, but two of my favorite quotes are about he definition of joy, and I would like to talk about them a little bit.  Both of them are from calendars (I really like calendars to decorate my room, and if they have words of wisdom under the fabulous pictures, how can I object?), but neither have attributions.  I apologize beforehand.  Now to the real meat (ironic, since I am vegetarian) :
"Joy is a spotlessly clean stove." 

I really love this quote. It just appeals to me. Partly it shows the stereotypical housewife, who obsesses over her beautifully clean stove, that even though it had a wonderfully edible meal cooked on it the night before and this morning, nothing spilled over and she just wiped the dust off this morning. 
That's the picture, right? Wrong.

That view puts joy into the "unattainable" category, just like being a perfect wife and mother is. I disagree with that idea, and there are other ways to spin it. I like to think of the quote as describing the characteristic of joy that is fleeting and in the moments, instead of the monuments of life. You may have a spotlessly clean stove, a polished floor, or even a pristine kitchen for a few hours. And those few hours are beautiful, in the satisfaction of your work and and the calming effects of order, but life being lived and subsequently messing up that kitchen is beautiful too. I think the quote also speaks to the how the seemingly trivial things can be full of joy and life. A clean stove may be a small achievement to some, but it is wonderful to the woman who spent the last hour scrubbing off the cooked-on food from her child's latest experiment. 

Another aspect of a joyful life that I think we miss out on a lot is the effect that our physical environment has on us. I am not talking about whether we are rich or poor (I live in a college dorm room - not exactly squalor, but not the Ritz either), but how we feel about where we live, and the order or disorder that can add tension to our lives. I think the quote kind of hints at this. A clean stove, a good environment can really make a difference in the attitudes and emotions that are invited into that space. My room doesn't have to be perfectly "clean", or big and airy for me to be satisfied, but there has to be a sense of order, covered and colorful walls (pictures, art and posters), and things in their right place (or a reasonably close approximation). How productive, how creative, how joyful we are can be affected by our environment, the spaces we chose to inhabit, the things we chose to surround ourselves with. 

"At the beginning joy is just a feeling that our own situation is workable.  We stop looking for a more suitable place to be.  This doesn't mean that suddenly there are flowers growing where before there were only rocks.  It means we have confidence that something will grow here." 

I loved this quote first, but that's just because I hadn't discovered the other one yet.  ;-)  This definition of joy is definitely more poetic and lyrical, while the other was just metaphorical, but both are pretty true to life.  I like this definition because in contrast with the previous post it describes joy as a process that can eventually be reached.  It is another way of saying "find joy in the journey", though of course more beautifully.  It also combines joy and hope and confidence, that we affect how and what we feel, that we can stop and be content where we are.  It promises good things.  That not everything has to be perfect now, a flowering garden or straight A's, fertile soil perfect for planting or great talents and abilities, but "now"can become something better.  Something Joyful.

But it requires work.  Do-able work, but still work.  Rocks don't clear themselves, not from a farmer's fields or from our lives.  Weeds don't magically disappear overnight. We have to make our own joy just like we have to make our own garden, and it starts with an acceptance of where we are starting from, and a vision of where we want to go.  Joy in the work is a wonderful possibility.  To grow where you are planted is another favorite saying of our world, and it has some truth.
This is just a comforting quote, for when my life isn't going quite according to plan, but the situation is workable.  When my stove isn't spotless, but it's clean enough to make dinner.  That there is potential in my life and in me.  I can be happy, joyful even as I work on myself and shaping my life.
And we all deserve to be joyful.