I was reading an article by a spiritual leader last month who wrote, “Do nothing unless it brings joy.” It got me thinking. On its face it seems like good advice; if you aren’t having fun doing something, why bother doing it. But if you think about it for a while, it doesn’t take long for you to see the problem with it.
The problem is, in order to achieve many, if not most of the things that are important to us, we need to pay the dues. In order for me to lose weight, I am going to have to get off the couch and exercise, burn some calories. If I don’t like exercise, I’m not going to be happy, let alone joyful. In order for me to become financially self sufficient, I’m going to have to cut back on my spending. If I am used to spoiling myself, this is not going to make me joyful.
Does this mean the spiritual leader’s advice in incorrect? I’m not sure. Maybe joy is different than happiness. Maybe when he uses the word joy, he is talking about more than just happiness, but rather a feeling that one is doing something meaningful, or productive, or that expresses our love for another or others, or that helps a person in need.
I like this different definition of joy. I think about last night, when I watched Domino, a movie starring Micky Rourke and Kierra Knightley. It isn’t a particularly life affirming movie, but I liked it, as I knew I would, as I had seen it in the past. It gave me pleasure, though it didn’t give me joy.
I think there may be a continuum. On the one end is joy, on the other end is pleasure and in between there is happiness. Pleasure is self focused, that is, the good feeling is totally focused on me. Joy, at the other end, is outwardly focused, expressing our love for others (which would include animals). In between, happiness, would be, perhaps focused inward, but in self affirming ways, activities in which we are growing to be better people.
I think what the spiritual leader is talking about is an attitude toward our activities. Getting off the couch and exercising to burn calories, though not a source of pleasure, is certainly a source of happiness, if we keep in mind why we are doing it. Cutting back on my spending is not going to give me pleasure, but it may bring happiness, as I am affirming myself as a responsible person, and even joy, if I have a family or someone who is financially reliant on me, and my becoming financially independent will inure to their benefit.
Do I suggest that you only do activities that are outwardly focused, that express your love for the world? Since I can’t promise to do it myself (I’m not giving up my action DVD’s) I’m not going to suggest you do it. Instead I see it as more of an aspiration, something we should aspire to, aspire to doing more things that bring joy, and less that merely bring pleasure.
It’s a good attitude to have.