Chapter 30

Joy of life

The desire to be happy motivates all of us. But the imper­fection and malice in the world make many people unhappy. The attempts to create joie of the enter­tainment industry delights the fans. But lasting joy in life does not result from it. Lining up fleeting joys such as in Las Vegas will never create the funda­mental feeling of joy of life. A lack of freedom, injustice, ghettos, addiction, concen­tration camps, suffering, and dying cannot be made bearable by shows.

This can only be achieved through reflection on the goodness and beauty of creation, the joy of pilgrimage full of hope for redemption, assuming respon­si­bility for yourself and your neighbor, overcoming short­co­mings through love, and the belief that the longing for joy after our death will be fulfilled.

Towards the light!

Isn’t it wonderful to be around a happy person? A person that exudes joy, is caring, and gives people confi­dence? We should strive to be just this person. This has nothing to do with our external circum­s­tances, but with our attitude towards life. You need to obtain inner joy. And this is joy that is not derived from wealth. I learned this when I spent time in the Third World, with disabled people, and from a disabled friend of mine.

Joy as a resilient attitude to life can’t cancel out the inade­quacy, injustice, evil, suffering, and dying of this world. But joy can help keep us from being crushed by all of that. Anger and grief are not opposites of joy, but they require conso­lation and healing to not despair with ignorance and lack of compassion, indif­fe­rence and arrogance. Joy has to do with courage and wisdom, forbe­arance and suffering, with hope and love.

We come into this world open and ready for the joys of this world. It depends on our surroun­dings, on our parents, and especially on our mothers whether we are able to find our way into adulthood without too many hurdles thanks to joyful experi­ences during our childhood and youth. We need to develop towards the light for sunshine to make its way into our lives.

It is not happiness from outside, for example a messenger from the lottery but the discovery of yourself, your ability to perceive, your intellect, your talents and virtues, your respon­si­bility and capacity for love that makes you ready for joy. Everyone has a talent for experi­encing joy. You may not neglect this gift, bury it, or even destroy it. You need it to protect yourself from the menace from others. You have to use it constantly and bring it to the fore.

Push back the naysayers!

A diary helps to place a buffer between the impacts that constantly rain down on us and our ego. It lets you prevent other people from gaining power over us by drawing our attention to them and prescribing us topics we will focus on. To do so, we have to identify the people and life circum­s­tances that affect us: our thinking, talking, feeling, and actions. We should ask ourselves the following questions at the end of the day:

  • What made me happy today?
  • What made me angry today?

On the weekend: Create a summary in a “yellow list” what made you happy and in a “black list” what made you angry. Look at these lists after a few weeks and focus on questions such as:

  1. Why was I happy or mad?
  2. Who or what was the cause for my joy or anger?
  3. Did I get mad at myself or was it someone else’s fault?
  4. Which trouble could have been avoided and how?
  5. What causes me to be happy?

You can find out using these kinds of questions where you need to start to gradually make your way to a prevailing mood that is carried by joy. You need to recognize the naysayers in your life first so that you can take away your attention from them or to change the way they think.

Change the way to think! Only very few things are purely pleasurable or purely annoying. There is some truth to the saying that there are two sides to everything. Seek out the good and pleasurable side! To do so, you need to ask questions that can also originate from something negative, such as: Which oppor­tu­nities does getting fired offer me?

For every irritation , you should ask yourself which lessons you can draw from it. Some things you initially ward off due to bad experi­ences or due to preju­dices gain different and new aspects after closer consi­de­ration that make you feel positive. You can then take pleasure in a suggestion after all. No person is only good or only bad. We all have a little bit of everything. Seek out the good side of your fellow human beings.

Keeping a diary on what makes you happy and what makes you angry is the first step to slowly directing our attention to the things that give us joy:

  • If you like to sing, join a choir!
  • If you enjoy the beauty of nature, go hiking – and go alone so that you can enjoy nature without any distrac­tions and with open senses!
  • If you like looking at pretty paintings, go to the museum!
  • If you enjoy physical activity, do sports!
  • If you enjoy helping other people and serving them, join one of the many chari­table projects!
  • If you enjoy listening to music, go to a concert!
  • If you enjoy making music, join a musical group!
  • If you like to read books, take a few hours to read and summarize in your own words what made you happy when you were reading!
  • If you like to paint, draw, photo­graph, and craft, do that regularly and take it seriously!

There are thousands of ways to spend time on an activity or task that provides joy – to yourself or others. Find out about these possi­bi­lities and plan and do them with your friends. But don’t just do it half-heartedly. Joy also includes making an effort, trying hard, and performing. It’s not enough to have good inten­tions. People can only relish the joy of a special talent when they are willing to practice and train. Being a genius is hard work!

Don’t let people get you down!

The hurts people inflict on each other have led to sarcastic sayings such as “Man is man’s worst enemy” or “Ever since I’ve gotten to know people, I’ve loved my dog.” On a study trip years ago, I got stuck with a group of people of whom I could have shot everyone to the moon after a few days, without exception. They were all either bitchy or obnoxious. Should I keep to myself? Should I cancel the trip? Love or hate – that was the question here.

In order to keep the trip from being totally ruined, I forced myself to love everyone. It’s possible! It’s not that I went into neutral mode. I kept much more trying to talk to individual members of the group, take on tasks for the group, make sugges­tions, and provide one or the other service. And at the of the trip, I came to the conclusion: Yes, it is really possible! Nobody is one hundred percent bitchy or obnoxious.

Therefore:

  • Approach your fellow human beings in an open and friendly manner, but do not be pushy!
  • Talk to others to learn a little more about them!
  • Stay in touch with friends and acquain­tances, parti­cipate in their lives and let them parti­cipate in yours!
  • Hone your obser­va­tional skills to recognize when people need attention, recognition, empathy, assis­tance or even opposition!
  • Defuse tense or even aggressive situa­tions with humor!
  • Put yourself in other people’s shoes and, as you do so, try to explain how people talk and act based on their situation!
  • Develop your experi­ences with people so that you can draw conclu­sions based on the language, appearance, facial expres­sions, posture, walk, and gestures; but refrain from being prejudiced!
  • Stay aware of the fact that you can only change your own self but hardly change your fellow humans!
  • Don’t withdraw from fellow human beings for fear of being insulted but develop the power and strength to endure being hurt!

These are just a few sugges­tions that – applied carefully – can help prevent disap­pointment when living with other people, whom we can’t always choose, and to live in joy, both inward and outward.

Be sure to direct your attention!

Joy takes on a dark turn when it is at the expense of others. Schaden­freude (deriving joy from the failure of others) is the mildest incar­nation of that. We take pleasure in success and in victories. For this to happen, we take on hardships and efforts. Opponents need to be beat and elimi­nated. Is this always fair? Is fanaticism involved? We also enjoy being able to afford something. Is the motivation of all joy in posses­sions, wealth, and riches not over the top and in fact just being greedy and loving lavishness? Is the joy of owning things not tarnished by our envy of those who can afford to buy more and more expensive things?

Joy can also pervert you: Having fun in taking out your perceived strengths on those weaker than you and covering up your lack of confi­dence egotis­ti­cally all the way up to sadism. Wars throughout the ages demons­trate with cruel intensity how organizing and leading people can create an environment that evokes joy in crimes that are inhumane and destroy lives.

The use of modern commu­ni­cation media can also be a killjoy. They mainly direct our attention to events and actions that highlight people’s bad luck and misfortune and cause preju­dices and fear. We are conti­nuously being confronted with the evils and outrages in this world. through scads of crime series, documen­taries, talk shows, and news programs.  They make us feel angry and powerless.

Do this test: After watching these kinds of shows, do you feel content and happy or rather down and sad?

Admit­tedly: Yes, they do reflect the world and people the way they are. But if you only notice the negative headlines and pictures from the horror scenarios in the news, you’ll become gloomy. You’ll lose your ability to see what’s good and beautiful and hopeful and liberating, which certainly also exist, but aren’t shared with us to the same extent.

The conse­quence is that we become incapable of doing what we can to help keep the world from going down the drain. How can you bear all of the injustice and destruction if you let the sun die out in your life? We need role models who radiate joy despite all the negativity in the world. Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to the suffering and dying radiated joy: “Life is bliss, taste it!”

Maintain joy like you’re stoking a fire

Joy as an approach to life differs from the short-lived joys we chase after. The fleeting joy of a good meal or a victory will never turn into permanent joy, even when we try to set up our lives to ensure that gourmet meals or victories are nonstop experi­ences. On the contrary: It will make us fat or we’ll take off.

True joy involves both meat and potatoes as well as defeats. Our hedonistic society does not pave the way towards joy in life. In fact, it entices you to perpe­tuate the joy of the moment through constant repetition, inten­si­fi­cation, and orchestration.

Here is a small exercise towards joy: Add additional terms for joy to the following expres­sions and then write down for every expression the thoughts and images that come to mind. Then go through your pictures you have in albums and boxes or on your computer or cell phone that fit your ideas. Then look for articles, chapters, and pictures that let you feel joy in magazines and books. Look for pictures and posters that to you express joy and hang them up in your home, and put them in an attractive frame.

Here are the words of the exercise:

  • dancing for joy
  • weeping for joy
  • joyful antici­pation
  • joy of reading
  • joy of hiking
  • joy of motherhood
  • cry of joy.

Now it’s your turn! Which words with “joy” can you think of?

Divorce rates have been incre­asing for years. The wonderful honeymoon period gives way to, “We’ve grown apart.” But many people do not even know why. Maybe it’s because your bad habits gnawed away at your joy, bit by bit. That’s because it’s only at the beginning of your relati­onship that the butter­flies will be there for no reason at all. After­wards, both of you will need to see to it – lovingly – that you keep stoking the fire of the joy of togetherness. This requires creativity and dynamics that match changing life situations.

Consu­merism – choosing, buying, using, tossing – is not suitable for creating permanent joy in life. People who want to maintain the joys of a partnership should keep the following in mind: Don’t look for the hair in the other’s soup and overlook your own short­co­mings. Here are a few words of adviceYour partner is not your property. Replace jealousy with love.

  • Swallow your pride.
  • Do not use your relati­onship to increase your status with your colleagues and friends.
  • Do not use your partner into a lightning rod for your anger, displeasure, and disappointments.
  • Clarify misun­derstan­dings immediately!
  • Don’t try to find a hair in the soup and then go on to also split it.
  •  Be forgiving and don’t insist on always being right.
  • Develop a feeling for when the right time is.
  • Don’t cause your partner to lose face when they make a mistake.
  • Don’t blackmail your partner when your partner does not do what you want: If you still loved me …!

Joy has precon­di­tions. It is up to you to create more and more reasons for joy. Your diary is the “workshop book” you can use to do this.

There is hope for eternal joy!

The imper­fection and transience of the world always makes joy temporary by nature. It often ends up in disap­pointment, turns out as a misjudgment, as wishful thinking, or self-deception. And yet we still always hold onto the hope that everything will be better and that we will have a reason for experi­encing joy. We long for an ideal world, for freedom, peace, justice, and love that doesn’t disap­point us. We have a longing for all this, although we know that its fulfillment in this world and in our lives will only be incom­plete or may not come true at all.

But if we can imagine the joys of comple­teness, if we long for them, does this not point – according to the philo­so­phers of the great religions – to a world beyond death in which all the devas­tating inade­quacy of this world is abolished once and for all, that is, in eternity? Eternal joy! Is that not our hope and our consolation?

If there is a world of eternal joy – no one can prove that it does not exist – and if all the joys of this world can only be provi­sional and indicate what we long for is pointing in the right direction, how are we supposed to shape our life so that we can be part of this joy?

  • Once in a while, let your thoughts wander to the end of your life and ask yourself: Have I made joy real in my life?
  • Under­stand your life as a unit you determine yourself and not just some piece work that has been brought about by external factors!
  • Read biogra­phies and analyze, and assess the life paths described there!
  • Ask yourself what example you want to give other people with your life!
  • Think about the sentence “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Find out the meaning of the holidays you parti­cipate in. Why do you celebrate Christmas?
  • Take a sabba­tical and spend it in the “Third World”!
  • Vacation at a monastery.
  • Read the bible alone or with your partner!
  • Go on a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago by yourself!

These are just some sugges­tions. This is what matters most: Become a person who knows how to create and enjoy what we look forward to in life because you know about eternal joy. Mother Teresa once said: “Life is an oppor­tunity, benefit from it!”

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