What is joy and where do I find more of it?

It’s hardly something we’ve felt much of in recent months, with so many pleasures that normally lead us to be joy-full severely lacking in lockdown. Yet there’s something about joy that goes so much deeper than mere feelings, and this is one of the things I find myself chewing over here in Lockdown 3.0.

Happiness is much easier to achieve, through an uplifting (video!) conversation perhaps, or a slice of cake, or a spot of online shopping, but the euphoria soon dissolves when the Groundhog Day-like reality dawns on yet another restricted day.

So what of joy itself? How can I live more consistently with joy as my bedrock, undisturbed by the choppy waters we’re all floating in? Maybe Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama can help!

Two spiritual figureheads representing two very different belief systems spending a week together – as great friends – for probably the final time. And this experience was documented in a book which was gifted to me by a friend last year, while the pandemic was still felt relatively fresh. I put off reading it until the old year dissolved into the new, and it is currently a book I turn to every day to glean what wisdom and experience I can.

It’s called The Book of Joy and it’s pretty good. I’m about two thirds of the way through so I can’t offer a full synopsis, but what I have gained so far is a refreshing and very simple take on how deeper community, greater equality and genuine humility will not only benefit us greatly but will literally change the world.

These two older statesmen have experienced a lifetime of highs and lows, joys and sorrows, war and peace, while discovering throughout where their true riches lie. And it may surprise you to read that the best things in life aren’t actually ‘things’.

Considering what we’re all dealing with right now, whether in Gloucester or The Gambia, this quote from the first few pages felt like a good place to sit: “No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. That is the power we wield.” And that power is no greater or no lesser just because of a global pandemic – it just requires a different pattern of thought, of gratitude, of compassion, even when the four walls we exist in may be a little too dull and familiar.

As the Dalai Lama said on day five of my reading, “if we look at today’s materialistic life people seem mainly concerned with sensory experiences… So when joy arises at the level of your mind and not just your senses, you can maintain a deeper sense of satisfaction for a longer period of time.”
It’s daily highlights like this I’ve lifted from the book and shared on Twitter. It’s felt like a healthy thing to do, not just because I’m doing what little I can to add a drop of positivity onto social media, but I’m documenting a stream of thoughts that – in some way – speak into the questions I asked at the start of this blog article..

So, to end, I wonder not how joyful you feel right now, but how joyful you actually are?

The Book of Joy won’t necessarily give you the answers but it’ll give you plenty to think about and to be inspired by – and you don’t need to be a Christian, as I am, or a Buddhist.

Let us hope by the end of 2021, with or without Lockdowns 4, 5, 6 or more, we’ve all learned a little more about finding and maintaining joy regardless of our circumstances.

Chris Sandys, Gloucester

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