Way #8: Constant Joy
Joy gives you the power, motivation and confidence to achieve things that otherwise seem too difficult to attempt. Better than a granola bar - joy is pure energy.
Do you remember the thrill of hitting a home run? Getting out on the last day of school? Riding your new bicycle? You jump with joy. Fantastic!
Joy gives you energy and makes you feel great. You can achieve all kinds of things that otherwise may seem too difficult to attempt. With joy, you're not afraid to talk to the guy sitting next to you on the plane. No problem! You've got energy, buoyancy. You're alive!
Way #8 is B'simcha – with joy. Some people may have more "natural" joy. But joy can be studied and mastered like any other tool.
When you have joy, you can do anything better, stronger, faster. Your memory is better. Your drive on the golf course is better. Your sales pitch is better. Everything is better.
You're not reaching your potential unless you have joy. A pro athlete, no matter how many times he steps up to the plate, still needs a thrill from the pitch, the swing, the fresh spring air, the cheering crowd. Otherwise his game is flat; he's playing by rote.
It's the same in life. When you have joy, you live with a different verve. Joyous people are energetic and ambitious. There's never enough time to do everything you want to do.
So whether you're studying, touring, working or relaxing, first get into a state of joy. It will give you a big boost of power and confidence.
Remember when your home team won the World Series? The city erupted in energy and euphoria and thousands took to the streets. But in the end there was violence and destruction and arrests.
Is this what joy is supposed to produce? Did those people have joy or didn't they? What went wrong?
It wasn't joy. It was hysterical delusion.
Learn to differentiate between real joy, which generates the power to accomplish, and illusory joy, whose burst of energy fades into a let-down.
Illusory joy is New Year's Eve and you celebrate all night long. "The world is perfect and I love everyone!" But there's a let-down. More than any other day, New Year's Eve has the highest rate of suicides.
People who win the hundred-million-dollar lottery jump with joy. What is their anticipation? To travel around the world, to be important. "Now I'm going to do whatever I feel like the rest of my life. I am free, a master of my fate. No more work, no more worries, no problems, no nothing. A hundred million dollars!"
Will that sensation last? You know you can have tons of money and be thoroughly miserable. The lottery winner may not know what he wants to achieve with his life. So the joy is an illusion. After a year, he's back in university, the hundred million dollar university student. Why? "Maybe philosophy will interest me..."
Joy isn't silly drunkenness, playing jokes, or making fun of people. Joy is the deep happiness that comes with fulfilling your potential.
If you know what you want out of life, then you can go after it even without a hundred million dollars. A shot of joy and you're ready to go. Do you see how this is power for living?
The Pleasure of Growth
It used to be when they wanted to show euphoric joy in a movie, a man would be told he had a new son. He'd dance up and down, delirious with joy, running down the street sticking cigars into horses' mouths.
Today, when the doctor tells him he has a son, he starts thinking about all the problems – late-night feedings, saving for college tuition, etc. What happened to the joy?
True joy comes from the pleasure of growth and self-actualization – when we conquer a difficult challenge, or experience a moment of clarity.
When your team wins the World Series, or when you win the lottery, the joy is a delusion. Why? Because you did not change or grow.
Joy cannot result from events, from "good things happening to you." Joy is solely the result of your reaction to life, your commitment to turning every moment into a growth experience. A new baby means you have to extend yourself at all hours of the day and night. That's not easy. But if you focus – even at 3 a.m. – you'll recognize this as real joy.
Do significant things and you will have more joy. If you are fighting for a cause, you are making an impact on the world. You are heavy. You are eternal.
Find your cause, whatever it is, and work at it. In Jewish consciousness, serving God is the ultimate cause.
Judaism has a principle called Chitzonit mi'orrer pi'nimiut – "the external awakens the internal." This means it is possible to develop an emotional state by acting as if you're already in that state.
For example, studies show that smiling when you're "sad" can improve your mood. There is a direct correlation between activating the physical muscles and your emotional state.
Do things that require joy, and you will become more joyful. For example:
- Wear nice clothes.
- Eat delicious food.
- Take a long walk on the beach.
- Think positive thoughts.
- Spend time with friends.
- Do kindness for others.
- Ponder how great it is to be alive.
- Call your parents and thank them for giving you life.
Once you feel joy, channel it in a productive direction. Don't just sit back and bathe in the joy. You have the energy to go out and do something fantastic. Help someone in need. Or tackle a job you couldn't face.
The Joy of Potential Pleasure
One way to increase joy is to anticipate the pleasure coming your way. When you anticipate something beautiful, you are more likely to see it as beautiful. And the joy of it will be more galvanizing, more exciting, more real.
"Hurrah! We're going to the circus today. We'll have a grand time!"
You feel joy just by expressing the anticipation.
The implication is profound. If you constantly anticipate pleasure, you can constantly be in a state of joy. For example, today is a new day. What do you anticipate? Who will you meet today, what will you encounter, what will you achieve? "Today is going to be a great day." Use this anticipation to energize you.
You're going to work today? Don't focus on the negatives: "I'm tired ... My boss is impatient..." Rather, stick to the positives: "I'll accomplish something productive ... I'll earn money to pay my bills..."
Use this tool for everything. Are you going to a museum today? What do you expect to gain? Articulate the benefits and pleasures beforehand. It will give you a constant influx of joy.
State of Mind
Many people don't experience joy because they take life for granted.
That is, until they almost die.
Someone who survives a car crash never lives the same again. Or someone who had cancer and is dismissed from the hospital with a clean bill of health. He bounces around telling everyone, "Isn't life wonderful? I'm alive!"
People think he's crazy. No one should be that happy unless he's won a million dollars!
Appreciate what you have. God created us for pleasure. What is the pleasure of being alive? Your hands! Your feet! Your eyes! Your mind! Learn to feel that pleasure. It will be with you always, wherever you are.
Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.
Learn the pleasure of just being, the simple joy of being alive. Then you have a basis to become more and more and more. Otherwise, it's just a sensation, a dream, an illusion. What will a new car give you? What will a million dollars give you? It will give you a way of running away from life, to dream, to be comfortable ... snug as a bug in a rug.
The Natural Condition
Joy is the natural human condition. Children have it and enjoy life in its simplest form. A carrot, a ball, the moon. But we adults learn to be miserable. The reasons for joy haven't disappeared. It's just that the burden of daily responsibilities distracts us.
Become conscious of the beauty of every moment. Focus on your underlying natural state of joy, even amidst the mundane issues of daily life. Because if you don't have the sense that life is good, then underneath it all you have nothing.
That's why the morning prayers begin with a series of blessings thanking God for the simple and obvious:
- Thank you, God, for giving me life.
- Thank God I can see.
- Thank God I can use my hands and feet.
- Thank God I can think.
If you master the art of noticing, appreciating and consciously enjoying what you already have, then you will always be happy.
Beyond this: When we are joyous, then God is joyous (so to speak) and showers us with blessings. In other words, if we take pleasure in what God has given us, He'll give us more.
That's why King David said: "Serve God with joy." He doesn't want any glum-faced people around. It is our obligation.
Conversely, the Torah says we will be punished "because you did not serve God with joy." You can do every obligation under the sun – serve your parents, and help humanity – but if you don't do it with joy, the Almighty is going to hold you accountable. Why? Because He wants us to have the maximum pleasure.
You don't enjoy your hands and your feet? You don't think the world is beautiful? You are serving the wrong God. He will take it away. Watch out!
Take Things in Stride
Beyond this, approach even your troubles with joy. How is this possible? Focus on them as opportunities for growth – challenges to help build character.
By definition, life has its challenges. Are those challenges going to raise your level of joy, or diminish it? If you let little things get to you, your joy will evaporate. When you find yourself worrying over a problem, ask yourself: Is it worth all the negative energy? The choice is yours.
The Orchot Tzaddikim (15th century) says: "Joy dwells in a person's heart when he does not focus on troubles." If you can focus away from the troubles, the natural condition is joy.
There's a difference between concern and worry. "Worry" means your problems consume you, even when you can't do anything to solve them. "Concern" means you pay attention to problems and look for solutions – but don't become depressed by them.
Don't suffer from nagging parents, whining children, an insufferable boss, lousy employees, and unreasonable professors. Even in sad or painful times, accept them as reality. Don't give up until you find something positive to focus on. Count your blessings. So what if your children are crying?! It's a good sign – they're alive and kicking!
When you have joy, you are a problem solver, not a problem sufferer. Imagine you own a business and a customer comes in to complain. If you're miserable, he'll walk out miserable, too. And the next day he'll be picketing in front of your door!
What if God forbid, someone has a tragedy? The Kaddish prayer, recited after the death of a close relative, is not a prayer for the dead, but rather an affirmation that life is gorgeous, beautiful, fantastic. You are not supposed to jump into the grave after the dead. Romeo and Juliet is not the Jewish way. The greatest tribute we can pay the departed is to affirm the meaning and joy of life itself. That's the purpose of death – to get us to appreciate the meaning of life.
Even if you can't solve your problems, don't walk around contaminating everyone else. "I am miserable today. Who can I spread this germ of misery to?" At the very least, don't make others miserable, too.
The Joy of Wisdom
Wisdom is a great source of joy. With wisdom, we understand the world around us and our role in it.
Judaism says that the essence of all joy is Torah. Why? Because Torah teaches us the meaning of life. It teaches us how to connect with the Almighty, how to live according to God's will.
That's why on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish national day of mourning, you are not allowed to learn Torah. Because Torah is joy. The great kabbalist, the AriZal (16th century Israel) said that "joy opens the doors to great heights of wisdom." The more wisdom you gain, the happier your life will be.
There is a natural joy in acquiring wisdom even if you don't apply it. It is meaningful. You have broadened your existence.
Beyond this, whenever you learn a piece of wisdom, figure out how it can enhance your life in a practical way. If you pick up a stone and see that it's a diamond, you'll be dancing down the street straight to the jeweler's. But if you pick up a diamond and start playing marbles with it, it's going to end up in the trash heap.
The Sages use a stronger metaphor. They say that learning Torah and forgetting it is like burying your own children. You have lost a piece of reality, a connection to eternity.
So whatever wisdom you learn, review it, memorize it, and keep it in front of you. Use it to achieve your loftiest goals. And when you need to, turn it on in the face of adversity.
Make a "Joy List"
As a practical exercise, take 10 minutes and write out a list of all the times you danced with joy. An outstanding athletic achievement? Meeting a long-lost friend? Being discharged form the hospital after a serious illness? The birth of your first child?
Now study your list and identify the common denominator of what triggers joy. By isolating the "cause," you'll have a secret weapon to snap out of a negative mood.
Examine your list to see which reflects true joy, and which reflects illusion and hysteria.
Find a way to expand your joy list. Ask others to describe their greatest joys.
Why is "Constant Joy" a Way to Wisdom?
- Joy gives you power and energy.
- With joy, you will knock the ball right out of the park.
- It is natural to feel joy; it is human to overlook it.
- Don't suffer your problems. Solve them.
- Why wait until you're almost dead to appreciate how good life is?
- Do the will of God and you're connected to eternity.