Building the Joy Muscle

Use It or Lose It

Our three-year-old Dylan was romping it up with her friend Donna while our two families were on a shopping expedition. They took turns running, shouting, and chasing each other, both having a grand time – and exhausting the rest of us as we tried (and failed) to keep up.

Yet even though both are free-spirited preschoolers, it was instructive to watch the contrast between the two. Donna was the classic headless chicken, rushing here and there with wild abandon, and very little attention from her mother. Dylan was more measured, more self-aware.

This difference was highlighted when they came to a set of stairs. Donna ran headlong up the center of the steps, shouting and laughing carelessly. They had been side by side on the sidewalk, but once on the steps, Dylan slowed down, moved to one side, and held the handrail as she climbed – safe, secure, wise.

As I applauded her choice, it started me thinking. I want that for her all her life – to approach each situation she encounters with wisdom. But I know it will also make her different, perhaps even an outsider.

Donna ran ahead without a thought in her head, Dylan lagged behind because she was making wiser choices. Donna was laughing and having fun, Dylan was thoughtful and focused. Extrapolating that into the future, Dylan may not be the life of the party, and maybe she won’t enjoy as many moments of abandoned happiness. But better a lifetime of joy that comes through wisdom than moments of random and fleeting happiness.

Yeah, I know – fatherspeak, trying to protect my little girl. But when you get down to brass tacks, it’s a decision I have to face myself every day, whether I’m aware of it or not (and most of the time I’m not…) – fickle, fleeting happiness vs lasting joy. My task is to try and remain self-aware, to act with consistent wisdom. Wisdom leads to joy. And joy does lead to happiness, but of a more substantial and lasting kind of happiness.

And even if the happiness doesn’t come from time to time, the joy never leaves.

Happiness is a feeling. And all feelings come and go on a whim. Joy is a state of the heart. Happiness taunts us. Joy satisfies us.

Joy is like a muscle – you can build it, grow it, maintain it. But not without consistent effort and purposeful focus.

Joy is an active daily choice that once made is able to endure through the trials and tribulations of life.

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A Universe of my Own

Multiverse W2

Astrophysicists have a theory that there may be multiple universes out there, perhaps even an infinite number of universes. They call it the Multiverse. There are a lot of complex mathematical formulas to try and demonstrate all of this, taking up acres of blackboards and terabytes of disk space.

But they could easily save themselves the brain drain, because all it takes is a walk down a crowded street or through a bustling airport to prove that theory. Even though I am surrounded by humanity, I look at the faces of those around me, and clearly each of them is in their own little bubble of a universe.

Walk into any restaurant, and it is immediately evident that each table is a universe unto itself. And within that Table For Four Universe, each of the inhabitants is also in their own little bubble world, only incidentally engaged with the others – starships passing in the night. (And if you’ve gone to some of the restaurants I have, the servers are always orbiting on a different plane…)

In the star charts of our galaxy, alien explorers have labeled the earth: The Selfie Planet.

There are 7 billion people on this planet, yet most of the time each of us acts as if we are the only ones here.

Of course, the same is true of me – I am the Little Prince adrift on my own tiny rock, a universe separate and apart from all others.

How often do I think of anyone else, I mean apart from what I want from them, what I’m expecting from them, how I think they should behave toward me? If I force myself to think about it, I find that I spend the vast majority of my life looking inward, seeing the world around me only as it relates directly to me. Not always selfish (but more often than not), yet certainly always self-centered.

Here’s a recent example that startled even me: I’ve been working on a big project, laboring intensely over the presentation for weeks, and finally sent it off. The next day I was told the decision-maker had been in a car accident and broken her hip. My very first thought? “Why did this happen to me?”

Seriously. It doesn’t get any more lost in space than that.

I think that must be why we revere any kind of true teamwork, from a basketball team to synchronized swimmers, a four-piece rock band to a full orchestra – we marvel at the selfless ability to embrace a larger universe, to think as group, to be an integral part of something bigger than ourselves.

Or true love – the ability to care more about the wellbeing of the beloved’s universe than our own. We’re all capable of this for short bursts. But how to maintain it?

Those same scientists who are adding and subtracting to find the multiverse all acknowledge that our own universe is blooming like a flower, constantly expanding, moving out toward some unseen distant horizon.

Can I do the same with my universe?

Don’t Blame God

Don't Blame God 3a

Ever been in a small gathering and someone gets up to sing a song? And before they start they say, “God gave me this song.”  Then they play.

And it’s awful.

Is that God’s fault? I’ll readily admit that His agenda and mine are often radically different, and that He quite often uses someone’s bad work to accomplish His good ends. But still, did the Creator of the universe really give that song to that singer?

A gift is one thing. But just the starting point. The gift is not the end, it’s just the beginning. The rest comes by my own blood, sweat, and tears.

Of course, it makes me wonder what people think then they look at my work. In many instances I all too easily settle for good instead of great. But why not go for the gold? Is that God’s fault? Am I poor, helpless Salieri to everyone else’s Mozart, or do I need to look in a mirror, take stock, take action?

Certainly not everyone’s gift is at the same level. But I am fully responsible for what I have received. Me. No one else. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

There are all kinds of things I can do to improve myself, to level up, to make a change. Am I willing – or am I complacent?

Stretch or shrink – in the long run, there is no middle ground.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Chalk Drawing

I grew up in the Northwest, where the weather is so volatile they’ve developed a saucy little saying – “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes, it’ll change.”

As I think of it, that’s pretty much true of everything on this planet, including us – nothing is permanent, everything is transitory. A meteor could knock us into the next dimension. The sun could go supernova and swallow us whole. A stone gargoyle could slip off a rooftop and bonk me on the head.

Of course, intellectually, we know this – the fleeting nature of life. It’s all over pop culture – how fragile we are, all we are is dust in the wind. Yet I tend to slip and slide through the years as if I’m going to live forever.

But I’m not.

I’m all for living life to the fullest. But I can’t live life to the fullest without pausing to contemplate the temporal, and how best to live life when facing the eternal. Now is not everything. There will be a then. The trick is understanding that how I live now determines how I live then.

And it behooves me to take a breath and remember that from time to time.

Shadowlands

Shadowlands

I am capable of great self-deception in, well, just about everything, from my weight to my worries. I think we’re all victims of great deceits in our lives – but this is about me.

It’s a confusing landscape to navigate through, this thing we call reality. Much of what we’re certain we see with heart, mind, and intellect are merely shadows and illusions.

As I look at it, it seems like my perceptions of just about everything are being called into question – is this a problem facing me, or just a blessing in disguise? Are my relationships what they seem to be, or is there something hidden from view? Is there more to life than what I’m seeing before me?

As I get older, I realize that so much of my life has been lived in deception, believing the shadow rather than the substance. Sure, a lot of this deception is from the outside – advertising, government, manipulative people.

But if I’m being totally honest with myself, most of the deception is homegrown, from inside my own heart. All too often I choose to believe the shadow, the illusion, the deception rather than seeking the substantial, the real, the true.

It’s just easier, for one. Truth-seeking and Light-seeing are hard work. But I am also so steeped in the shadow, that it’s hard to distinguish the light any more. It takes an extra effort, a step outside myself, a willing awareness.

A choice must be made – believe the shadows that surround me, or the Truth that’s in the Light.

Enjoy Joy

Enjoy Joy - T-WS

I often find myself waiting to be overcome by the Big Moments of joy in life; and I am often disappointed. By always looking for the Big, I miss the small joys, the little pleasures God brings into my life on a daily basis. They are always there, but I so seldom see them.

Yet the only thing hiding these little joys from my sight is my attitude.

The extraordinary thing is, once I open my eyes to experience the little joys, once I stop looking “out there” and begin to notice what is right under my nose, these little joys band together to form Big Joys.

And then Joy begins to infect my whole life.