What is joy?
I have spent a long time searching for happiness, it seemed more important than money, career and a prerequisite for being the kind of person I wanted to be for my family and friends. Like most writers, I have an unerring subconscious belief that all answers are somewhere in a book, you just have to find the right book. I read hundreds, both directly on the subject of happiness and many on the themes surrounding it. There are many hints and suggestions, but the impression I came away with was that happiness is something that is experienced, in the moment and not held onto.
One the most helpful descriptions of happiness I have found, is that it is best compared to the changing temperature of water, we are only happy when it is warming up. We are comparing machine, we noticed difference and the status quo is just the background noise, that calibrates our current life situation. Indeed the often stated American constitutional right that the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed, is more accurate than people first perceive. It seems that the pursuit describes our fundamental nature, it is not our right, it is our raison d'etre, is a descriptor of being human, people will always pursue happiness because we are compelled to by our basic programming.
We seek the better situation, more success, more status and more love, and each time we achieve success, we feel happy, that temporary glow of improvement in our life circumstances. However when we stop improving, stop achieving, even if we maintain what we have, that is perceived by our subconscious as failure and failures do not get to be happy. That is the cruel and basic logic of the mind, when it compares to equal states, it sees the lack of progress not the joy of maintaining your current state. That is why success is so short lived, why Nobel prizewinners can feel like their lives have stalled, they can feel like they have nothing left to achieve, no challenges left to overcome.
One of the stoic solutions to this, is to build gratitude into your life, both by the process of negative visualisation and building in voluntary discomfort to your life. The mind does not discriminate between reality and our perception of reality, when we visualise something, it is as far as the mind is concerned real, when we imagine a bear is under the bed and truly believe it to be real, our fear reaction is exactly the same as if there was a bear underneath it. By feeling suffering, sadness or loss, even when it's imaginary, it feels real and when we remind ourselves that it isn't, that we are not blind, we have not lost the use of our legs or someone we love, it truly feels real, our comparing mind, compares a world where someone is dead with one where they are next to us in bed, and when we compare the two we feel happy. It is such a simple trick, and one that the mind cannot help but fall for, and is far simpler to pretend to lose everything every day, than it is to gain and improve everything every day.
Voluntary discomfort does the same, but it attacks the problem in the real world, and is easier to remember the real world as opposed to the temporary realities we holding our minds. However it is the same trick, instead of making life better everyday, we take a voluntary step backwards into what our minds believe is a less desirable state, a less happy state and then when we return to our everyday normal state, our comparing minds cannot help but notice that it is better and so it sends the happy hormones flooding through our bodies.
However to empower these tricks even further, meditation enables us to do something quite extraordinary, we get to choose what we notice, we get to highlight our experiences by shining our awareness into them. It works both ways, when we feel bad, when we experience suffering, even if it's voluntary, by bring our awareness to it, we make our experience deeper, we are in the moment with, we become aware of our thoughts, our associated thoughts, thoughts that are induced and linked in a chain. It is remarkable how thoughts assemble into a predictable chain reaction, and those thoughts lead to feelings and emotions, even physical reactions of pain and tension, that in their own turn provoke more thoughts, until it all becomes avalanche that can easily overwhelm you.
For me, my stomach is the centre of my emotional world where I feel things and it can produce non-Newtonian fluid reactions, where the centre of the spinning world entangles in a knot of tension. It was thanks to meditation, that I was able to notice how strong it was initially, but it also meant that I was able to start bringing my awareness towards it. Which might not sound like much of an advantage, however it is always easier to undo a knot when it first begins to tie itself, rather then when it's become a Gregorian level event.
However there is so even more unexpected gift meditation opens the door to, having awareness, engaging in the act of awareness, being present in the moment, brings the unexpected realisation that boredom is just what happens when you are not aware, and unhappiness is just boredom dressed up in emotions. Whilst unhappiness and happiness are just the two different directions from where you have been, they are the weather changing in your world, you can instead choose to focus on the climate, the big picture of your life and in that picture there is joy. Joy is quieter, you have to listen for, you have to bring your awareness to, but it is always there, as awareness itself generates that joy, that sense that you are connected to the world and life itself, not just your life and your life situation, but the whole of life, the whole of this dynamic wonderful world and we are lucky enough to get to experience it.