I have often heard people make the following remarks:
- “Why do I seldom feel joyful?”
- “Something always nags at feeling joyful. I wonder ‘what next?’ or ‘maybe it won’t last.’”
- “I know about pleasure, but I don’t think I’ve felt pure joy.”
- “It’s like I always expect something more.”
- “I’m always disappointed in the end.”
These laments give me an opening:
- “Why do you think that joy is such a rare experience?”
- “What gets in the way of a full heart?”
The problem is we are never satisfied. We are never thankful for what we have. We lack gratitude.
Joy is a heart full and a mind purified by gratitude. It is steady elation with a current of “at last” coursing through it. Joy’s fingers lift my heart out of my chest and hold it high so that nothing can touch it. It has more staying power than happiness with no chance of being diminished by circumstance. I can be happy and still want more. Joy is it.
This full-blown exhilaration stands in stark contrast to the tired heart and weary soul that often precede it. I know joy as misery’s opposite. Joy’s tall branches are secured by deep roots. It grows in the wake of trouble and sadness in a life fully lived. Its consuming presence can surface even in the midst of disaster. Joys pass; memory keeps joy alive. Joy is life’s reward.
Gratitude is in-your-bones appreciation for what comes your way; it answers “yes,” come what may. It purifies the mind of the confusion wrought by “me first” and creates plenty of room for joy. Gratitude reverses the attitude that the world owes you something, lots of things, and that you deserve them and much more: the biggest screen television, gourmet dining, travel and leisure on demand, a partner who is all yours, a baby who never cries. Drowned out by the noise of entitlement, joy hasn’t a chance. A grateful person approaches each day with a sincere “thank you” poised on the lips.
Just the thought that the world owes us nothing frees and fires dialogue. I agree to go first in a quick round of “grateful because.” I’m grateful to the coach who taught me to play sports for no payment or reason other than love of the game and belief in a kid’s promise. I’m thankful for infusions of grace that lighten my way however long the time lapse between injections. Every time love nips me by surprise, my being registers an automatic thanks. And how fortunate I am that I make a living working for a cause like hospice. When I plugged my annual salary into a global study, my income ranked in the top 20 percent in the world.
What to do? Can I lean into each day with thanksgiving? Thankful because relationships, levees, and faith hold fast? Will I learn that joy can spring only from a grateful heart?
In the book, Morrie Schwartz is dying, and his former student Mitch Albom welcomes laughter-laced Tuesdays with Morrie just as he did 20 years ago. What lessons remain? “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in,” and for the professor, “love is when you are as concerned about someone else’s situation as you are about your own.” Albom brushes his hand across Morrie’s head and sees “the slightest human contact was immediate joy.” Morrie counsels the student he loves that by making peace with death we can do what’s more difficult, to “make peace with living.” He is a grateful heart and finds pure joy.
Bob Mueller is Vice President of Development at Hosparus.