What is Joy? Such a small word, yet it holds such meaning, such association, such remembrance and anticipation. Such power for just three letters.
Where does happiness end and Joy begin? That is a question that many have tried to answer, and there are as many responses as there are people trying to define it.
Recently, I stumbled on the most marvelous book about Joy. I think it was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, of all places. Joy, 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman, is an attempt to illustrate the diversity of definitions of the concept of Joy, and it does so by illustrating, in poetry, and some prose, the many manifestations of Joy.
Poetry often focuses on mankind’s plight, his suffering, his lack of understanding. The poems in Joy, by contrast, are a fantastic collection of modern poetry, focusing on the good, the bright, the brief glimpses we have into the larger, spiritual world we inhabit. Joy shines the light on what makes us feel really alive and connected to this magical, mysterious world.
Derek Walcott describes a conversation he had with poet Adam Zagajewski, in which the latter describes Joy as a visitation. “Happiness,” he said, “is for the Declaration of Independence, a political condition, and also for the ending of movies. Joy, by contrast, is an illumination, as in Blake and Wordsworth and Rilke, a benediction, a visitation . . .”
In other works, Joy is a “peak” experience. Joyful moments stand out above all others for their concentrated pleasure, awareness, illumination of our humanness, and our special ability to feel deeply, if only briefly. Joy is a feeling, a moment in time, that takes us out of ourselves, if only to return us more alive, more aware, more open to our own feelings and more connected to the world around us. Through what may be an earthy experience, we are given a brief glance at the eternal.
How do we experience Joy? Is it something we can cultivate? Or is it something serendipitous, outside our control. Is one man’s Joy another man’s mundane moment? Or is there something common, universal, to Joyful experiences?
The book raised such interesting questions in my mind that continue to enrich my reflections on life, on how to live a life well lived.
Most of the poems in Joy resonate with me. I feel the Joy they express. The selections illustrate the concept with such great art and beauty; they emanate that expansive feeling in a way that is contagious.
If you love to read at all, I recommend Joy, 100 Poems. Read it at odd, irregular moments. It will bring a smile to your face. It will give you a brief experience of Joy, and in doing so it will make you more aware, it will remind you of past Joy, and turn your mind to the delightful prospect of experiencing more. And by looking for it, you will almost certainly start finding more Joy in your life.
And, by the way, I might be able to help you experience more Joy in your life. All you have to do is ask 🙂