Laughter means contentment. It means happiness, perhaps fleetingly, but for those few moments when we laugh, we are happy. There are synonyms and antonyms to happiness. Joy, delight, elation. It’s opposite despair, tribulation, misery, unhappiness. All of which seem rather drastic. There must be some kind of middle ground.  Take joy. Use with joy it says on my waste paper container. Your objects must give you joy – or throw them out says Marie Kondo. Joy to the world, goes the Christmas carol.

How does one communicate the fact that we are happy?  If I were still a child, I might express my happiness by dancing or singing. I might be laughing or at least smiling.

Joy can be fleeting, but happiness is something we hope will characterize our lives. From what I wrote many years ago, I realize that part of joy or happiness is hope.

 (Note to my granddaughter, perhaps 15 years ago)

“Dear Heart,

I was thinking about the things that give me joy. Not just remembering your face when you were 3 and saw that tractor that Tommy gave you for Christmas, but other little daily things. Some of which would include:

seeing the thousands of tiny plants sprouting after a rain, hoping, trying, to become a plant that will bear seeds;

walking Teah in the morning and suddenly seeing splashes of orange in the woods along the road where the sun strikes the bushes and grass, flames of light and hope;

seeing Teah sitting in her run and expectantly looking out, hoping someone will come;

looking up and suddenly seeing Orvieto glowing in the setting sun, a beacon of hope before night sets in. 

And I suppose if I stop and think of it, joy at having another day opening up for me. And one I must make the most of.”

So what does happiness depend on? It may be something as simple as passing by a vase with a yellow tulip open wide. Its beauty makes me smile, makes me feel joyful, happy.

The joy of being together. The joy of doing what we had envisioned so it could be shared. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

The final paragraph in an article on Beethoven in Maria Popova’s The Marginalian gives me perhaps the best definition of “joy”:

 “Ode to Joy “ . . . streams into my wireless headphones as I cross the Brooklyn Bridge on my bicycle, riding into a life . . .  into a world unimaginable to Beethoven, a world where suffering remains our constant companion but life is infinitely more possible for infinitely more people, and more kinds of people, than even the farthest seer of 1822 could have envisioned.

I ride into the spring night, singing. This, in the end, might be the truest definition of “joy” — this ecstatic fusion of presence and possibility.”

In other words of hope. For hope implies a future. A future where relationships continue to develop and grow even though happiness in itself is perhaps an intrinsically unreachable goal and however much we continue to hope, we can never succeed in vanquishing completely despair and misery.

4 thoughts on “Joy

  1. By coincidence I listened to the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth only this morning and found the words of the choral section online in parallel German and English texts. Most of the time the music sounds jubilant, almost triumphant or even ecstatic – as would fit the words: Freude, Fruede! And:

    Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
    Tochter aus Elysium!

    But there were passages where I felt a minor key underpinning it. I don’t know whether that was technically so. Anyway, it seemed that there was a note of wistfulness – in short, of hope.

    So I think you are spot on again Erika!


  2. Dearest friend who has given me, Diane Joy, so much over the years of our friendship.

    I love your examples of sources of joy, especially those related to the plant world and the glow over Orvieto which we both appreciate so much. Even my friend who has come to the painful stage of her cancer told me yesterday how she opens her window in gratitude for having reached each new day.

    Although some might consider the tulip in your photograph past its prime, I take joy from tulips at every stage of their brief season. 🌷💚💐


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