“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:13-18
When I read the above passage, my understanding of what God is telling us is that there is wisdom, lasting joy, for those of us who are able find contentment in life, self-confidence and peace. To me the passage means that this state of mind is preferable to the transitory feelings of happiness which may come and last for moments or for days. Happiness, psychologists tell us, is the emotion we feel from obtaining new material things, winning a race,or obtaining a goal. But the happy feeling never lasts. The new car smell doesn’t last. So, on to the next challenge, the next… desire. The accumulation of happy feelings over time, however, can boost our base level emotion. But the ups and downs in life tend to cancel each other out. So how do we find lasting joy?
Our Sunday school lesson this week was on this subject, the difference between joy and happiness and the relationship between the two. There was, as usual in our class, much discussion; people had different opinions, and that is as it should be. But joy, in a Biblical sense, I believe, is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life. It is rather an attitude of the heart or of the spirit. To have it, I believe, one must be connected with God, or to other people in our lives, or with nature, or by appreciating the arts, or by growing passionate about the things we do, our jobs, our hobbies. It requires an acceptance of life as it is in the present. To me, joy is the “true” happiness.
During our lesson, I interrupted our teacher, perhaps too soon in the lesson, to opine that happiness is to joy as the weather is to climate. I don’t think that anyone in the class quite understood that. But let me here try to explain what I meant. The weather in any particular place on the earth changes constantly. Climates in different places are more permanent; they are the cumulative or aggregates of the weather conditions and they are the driving determinates of weather conditions. In a tropical climate, the weather is less changeable. It is quite warm and humid most of the time. In an arctic climate, the weather is cold and quite dry most of the time. In a temperate climate, seasons are more pronounced. Here in Texas which has a temperate, subtropical climate, the weather changes from day to day, often from hour to hour. Yesterday, the 24th of January 2017, the temperature mid day in Dallas was near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By tonight, the temperature will be in the low 40s.
Sometimes life does not treat us well, like a cold snap. We may experience financial devastation, become ill, go through a divorce, develop a chronic illness, become disabled, experience the death of a loved one. We all have to adapt to growing older. These things, these transitions or challenges are all aspects of life, and we all experience them to varying degrees until the day we die. These things can sap our joy. But if we are tethered spiritually, emotionally to something greater, we can persevere with lasting joy. I have known people like this, people who had a glowing countenance, a shining spirit. My wife’s grandmother was such a person. We called her, Ms. D.
Ms. D. was a retired school teacher, a widow who gave herself to others. She was the calm, quiet presence in a room when others in my wife’s family bickered with one another. Despite crippling Rheumatoid arthritis, she had a perpetual smile on her face and she always had a kind word. She was brilliant — studied mathematics in college but was denied a degree in the discipline because she was a woman. Disappointed but not defeated, she found another, better calling as a teacher. She gave herself to young children, and she loved them. She loved our Lord Jesus too — loved to minister to friends in her Bible class on Sundays and she encouraged her family, including my wife, in the ways of our Lord. Ms D found wisdom. She got understanding. Ms. D knew joy — the “real” happiness.
Some people believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment despite life’s challenges. Joy, they understand, is an internal, lasting emotional condition. I too believe this, that we can decide to pursue meaningful, rewarding relationships and life pursuits. We can grow in wisdom and nurture joy.
Some people believe that joy is just a synonym for happiness, a word for great happiness. Yes, in certain contexts, the word is used that way. But I believe the word, as used in Scripture, has a different meaning — a more meaningful meaning.
My life changed for the better when my granddaughter brought her daughter, my precious Kaleiyah, into my life. The times I have spent with this very special child, caregiving, teaching and nurturing, have lifted my base level of happiness permanently. I shared this with my Sunday school class and this I know they understood. Although Kaleiyah is no longer with me on a daily basis as she was for a few years during her formative childhood, she will forever be in my heart. She may grow up or move permanently away, but she will always be with me. When I do get to spend time with her, I am happy. When I don’t get to see her for days and sometimes weeks at a time, I am unhappy. Still, she remains a source of lasting joy.
Psychologists tell us that when someone experiences joyfulness, physiological and biochemical alterations occur that encourage a sense of well-being which completely alter the negative views of life. Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.
So, how can we pursue joy? Is it sufficient to constantly seek more and more heightened pleasures? I think not.
- Choosing to Smile (I don’t do this enough) and consciously deciding to have a good day induces endorphins and other uplifting chemicals in the brain. Nothing can dampen your mood when you know the techniques involving how to bring on joy. Everyone can indeed develop inner joy. Using these techniques can bring on temporary happiness, however practice frequently throughout the day and on a daily basis will increase that baseline happiness level and bring about the more consistent feeling of Joy.
- Meditation and Imagining (I don’t do this enough) that you have received something you wish for will improve happiness which is of short duration. However, it is important to avoid mixing this fantasy with reality. Imagining or wishing you had something is very temporary. With practice, meditation and becoming mindful in the spiritual sense will bring about lasting joy.
- Positive Thinking (I don’t do this nearly enough) or making it your goal to think positive often brings happiness to the surface quickly. Adopting a positive attitude can indeed improve the mood and bring on temporary happiness. Regardless of the problem, situation, or circumstance, people do get to choose whether they want to feel happy and joyful, or depressed and sad. The key is to practice this technique and make it a daily goal. Practice recognizing the simple delights in life.
- Feeling Grateful (This I do a lot) about what you do have is a deeper emotion and consciously practicing or focusing on what you have in life will increase that baseline level and bring on the lasting feeling of joy. Feeling grateful for your health, employment, family, friends, home, etc., basically makes people feel content.
- Notice Immediate Surroundings (This I do) Stop and become aware of the positive aspects of your life. Most will find plenty of evidence that happiness is sometimes hidden in many areas, people just have to be aware. Consistently stopping and noticing the positive pieces of the immediate surroundings will consistently increase awareness and increase that baseline level to feel consistent joy. Stop….Ask yourself, “What is pleasurable about this moment”?
- Become Active and Support (This is what I endeavor to do most) a cause that you really believe is worthy. Or become active on a smaller scale by practicing random acts of kindness. Helping others increases the endorphin like chemicals in the brain. Becoming active in a cause helps people feel in control or empowered, especially when facing a difficult life challenge.
- And I would add, seek to further a relationship with your “higher” power.
A person’s genetic baseline level of happiness, according to Dr. McDonald, is fixed on the personality style in which they were born. So, on a certain level, some of us have to struggle more to be anything but a sourpuss. But this baseline level of happiness, she contends, can increase over time. People can receive the internal feeling consistent with joy by practicing certain behaviors and techniques. So do strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today! Life can be worth the living.
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