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A couple weeks ago, an old friend asked those of us who were gathered for dinner something like "What in your life brings you joy?"

Some interesting discussion ensued about the term joy. It's a word that I'm a little wary of; I think to me it can connote a certain naivete and lack of healthy skepticism. ('Cause, y'know, it's important to be cynical about things. Who knows what awful things might happen if we weren't.) On the other hand, it also has a purity to it that perhaps the world could use more of.

I certainly have plenty of happiness in my life, and pleasure. And cheerfulness, and gaiety; contentment, gladness, enjoyment. Sometimes even delight. But I think the only context where the word joy comes to mind is listening to or singing certain songs. I did a quick search for "joy" (with a space before it, to avoid finding "enjoy") in my journal; sometimes I say a piece of technology is "a joy to use," which is probably a step up from "a pleasure to use" but isn't really quite what I mean when I talk about experiencing joy. The only other relevant bit was a birthday entry from a couple years ago, in which I was talking about music. Especially the "Gaudeamus Hodie" round and various Lui Collins songs.

(The mention of sunlight on that page reminds me to mention that on the way back from the cafeteria to my desk at work, I pass through a little area at the top of the stairs that's perfectly situated to capture warm sunlight. I generally slow down as I approach the top of the stairs, and sometimes stop altogether for a few seconds, just luxuriating in the warmth. That's a pleasure that's somewhat akin to joy, I think.)

The other mention of joy in my journal was in an entry quoting Zen Judaism. But that was just silly.

Tim P recently mentioned writing joyfully. So now I'm curious, so I'll ask all of you: what brings joy to you? What makes you joyful?

(Reminder to LJ readers: If you want to post a comment, please follow the link to my journal page first.)


One joy is vicarious: experiencing other people's joy, such as Bjork's joy over a newborn baby (can't find the particular song now) or the lyrics a song like a "Violently Happy" (although other songs of hers express more exhuberance akin to joy).

Much joy comes from anticipation of something good--like Christmas and listening for the clack of hooves on the roof and for sleigh bells of eight tiny reindeer.

For the spiritually cognizant, they can experience an ethereal joy that is a kind of sober drunkenness, but it takes much digging and reaching to attain such a state.

For the depressed, there's no joy except the vicarious kind. Joyous music can sometimes cut through the noise, however--a curious phenomenon.

I reviewed what I wrote and see that a common thread is abandoning the adult somber skepticism and losing one's self in childlike enthusiasm for life.

Participating in a religious service that encompasses community and music and worship. Holding my wife in a quiet moment. Seeing perfect graphic design or art. Learning that another person truly appreciates something that I've created or shepherded into being. Watching my greyhound run.

Sometimes joy is fleeting, sometimes it lasts. Reflecting on an event or time that brought me joy sometimes engenders joy afresh, though more often creates contentment. Either way, thank you for this thread of thought.

It's curious that I also associate a kind of naivetee with the word, since it's actual dictionary definition doesn't really carry that.

However, the stronger association for me is with the sumerian word kirizal which translates -- more or less -- to joy. The word kirizal is constructed from the words 'dam' and 'breaking/dissolving'.

Once I learned about the sumerian word, I've always thought of the english word differently. The imagry -- for me -- of joy being equivilant to a breaking dam is a powerful one that strips away some of the veneer of safety on the english word and leaves me with something that's more feral and appealing.

I believe strongly in joy, but I also see nothing wrong with naivete and sometimes purposely cultivate it. I think I experience joy all the time. To me, it feels joyful whenever I am totally living in the moment and not worried or thinking about anything else. I feel joy when I go on a hike in the woods, when I fall into a painting, or when I'm singing along with real people or a tape at the top of my voice. I feel joy when I've completed something very well - which generally means when I finish a painting. I also feel joy when I finish a really good book, usually one with a bittersweet ending.

I dunno, joy sometimes just pops up and it's hard to pin down what it was. E.g., watching a beautiful sunset over rolling hills, or a beautiful worship service, can bring that deep sense of contentment and harmony that makes me feel like my skin is glowing--but to me it's obviously not just the sunset but something else in me that was ready to respond to that particular moment.

Two major categories of joy-bringers. No, wait, three. First, and (thank the Lord) most frequent, are the times I see the people I love happy. Often, they are not joyful as such, rather gleeful or satisfied or whatnot, but I rejoice in it.
Second, I can get joy out of seeing something really well done, often art or performance or athletic prowess, but sometimes craft or even, say, cooking or some such. Part of the joy is from knowing (or at least believing) that the person doing it is enjoying him- or herself.
Third, the rare occasion when I know I'm doing something really well myself. I'm reasonably good at a lot of things, but not absolutely excellent at much, so this doesn't happen very often. Sometimes, at a story reading, for instance, I get into a story and really feel like I'm doing a good job, and the joy I feel is similar to what I feel in the first category, watching my daughter playing in the water or some such.
That's all I can think of, although there are probably other kinds as well. And, of course, all this is for me, and the way I use the word; I distinguish between joy and glee and happiness in a nerdy way that is probably entirely unnecessary.


Trent wrote: For the depressed, there is no joy except the vicarious kind.

I think that was not true for me, when I was.

However. "What brings joy to you? What makes you joyful?"

Letters from friends. Birds at my feeder. The smells of autumn leaves. The taste of Christmas desserts. When friends poke me to keep my resolutions or to grow. Healing over a separation. Finishing things well. Laughter.

A few times each year, I experience something that moves me to tears in a good way. On New Year's Eve, I found out that one of my best friends is pregnant. The double rainbow I saw on my way to WFC. The sound of a pack of wolves howling in the darkness all around me (while I was safely behind a fence). I consider these religious experiences, though I'm not religious by anyone's definition. I also consider them moments of pure joy.

Watching a child make a discovery about the world, or what they can do in it. There's nothing like that moment. It's really their joy, but I bask in it. Also, I find a deep sense of joy in self-discovery, in the connections I have with the people I love, in certain music. To me, joy isn't naive at all, but very aware and alive.

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