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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