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Do You Feel Enough Joy?

Dear Friend,

Do you feel enough joy?

Does your lifestyle maximize your joyful experiences while minimizing those that are less, or even unpleasant?

Is it OK to regularly pursue pleasurable experiences ?  Or should you feel guilty for being excessively selfish? Especially if there were more noble things you could have done at that moment?

Is a life spent in pursuit of pleasure less valuable than some other life path you could choose?

How would Mother Theresa have answered these questions?

Perhaps we need to qualify the term pleasure?

If you show respect for others, and live by the Golden Rule, then pursuing pleasure is as natural as breathing.

I define pleasure as the opposite of suffering.  Some say that suffering is the normal condition of humanity.  And the pursuit of pleasure is his primary activity.  Some define pleasure simply as the absence of suffering.

And what is joy?  Is it the same as pleasure?

I think that most of us can feel pleasure as a momentary experience, often a distraction from our more mundane, typical condition.  Scientists say that pleasure is nothing more than a quick release of chemicals in our brains that causes momentary euphoria, then subsides (which would explain the temporary nature of pleasure).

Can joyfulness also be explained away in scientific terms? Perhaps.

But isn’t joy the central goal of just about every human on Earth?  Setting aside every human endeavor, every thought and action, every dream and plan, and even every relationship, isn’t the pursuit of a joyful life the point of them all?

Another way of putting it is thus: If you were full of joy, without the need to do anything else, would you still do all the stuff that you do everyday?  Would any of us?

And if a joyful life really is what everyone wants, why don’t we pursue it more directly?

Why is it so rare for anyone to speak of joy itself as the target of our efforts, the end purpose of everything?  Why is the word almost exclusively relegated to religious language, used by so few in day-to-day speech?  Could it be because joy is so rare?  Could it be that we simply don’t want to be reminded of a light so bright that we nevertheless cannot see?

Perhaps joy is so rare because so few of us directly pursue it?

If the central purpose of your life was joy, what would you do?  How would you transform your life as it is now to meet your goal?  How would you interrelate to others?  How would this impact the decisions you make everyday?

Is your life focused on joy?  If not, why not?  If joy is what you really want, why would you put off pursuit of it?

Perhaps you doubt that joy exists?  Maybe you imagine joy as a fantasy, and it’s pursuit as tilting at windmills? Perhaps?  But isn’t a concept so potentially powerful and game changing worth a little investigation?  Isn’t the possibility worth just a bit of your time?

Think about it.  And please let me know what you think.

I believe what today’s world needs, more than ever, is more lives bathed in joy.

How about you?  I look forward to your comments.

All the best,

Hugh 🙂

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Courtney Baker February 3, 2011, 1:45 am

    I think this same concept comes with not spending. There’s so much talk about anti-consumerism that it makes you feel guilty for what you have or want.

    What’s important is that we aren’t trying to have it all. By “having it all”, we are investing so much in stuff we are suppose to want. Not stuff we actually care about.

    I think joy is similar. People are so busy doing “joyful” things that aren’t joyful for them. For example, drinking wine is not joyful for me, but I keep trying to find a wine that I like so I can participate in wine conversations in social settings. I don’t like wine, so I need to stop investing in this just to please a standard. I wonder how many people even know what things REALLY bring them joy.

    I do enjoy photography, so I’ll pursue that interest with guilt-free abundance (as long as it’s within my budget of course)!

  • Hugh DeBurgh February 3, 2011, 5:00 pm

    Hi Courtney!

    You hit on something big.

    Many of us don’t seem to know what we want. We go along with what the crowd says we ought to want, and feel afraid to admit it ain’t for us.

    This kind of behavior must start in adolescence, where the need to fit in and be accepted is strong.

    Instead of trying to fit into other people’s worlds, perhaps we need to spend more time getting to know ourselves? How can any of us pursue our joys if we have no idea who we really are?

    Eastern societies have always emphasized the pursuit of self knowledge as an important skill for young people to master, but this is rare in Western cultures, where conformity to social expectations is emphasized. Maybe it’s time to borrow a page from the East?

    Thanks for the great thoughts!

    All the best,


  • Hugh DeBurgh February 3, 2011, 5:13 pm

    Michelle –

    Your daughter is blessed to have a mom like you.

    So few parents understand that the most important job a parent has is helping their kids to discover what joy can be in their lives. Or maybe it is just not to squash the joy that they are naturally born with?

    Either way, we parents often get so caught up in doing the things we think a parent ought to do, and have not a clue whether those things help or hurt our kids.

    You make a good comment about biology and experience. We know a family that never smiles. Not real smiles, anyway. And they never speak to you except in anger or they want something. The kids are eerily identical to the parents, and even the grandmother. It’s as if they are a family of clones.

    I think this shows the power of biology. I’m not sure how much you or I could bring joy to their lives. And I suspect they wouldn’t derive joy from inspiring others either.

    But there are many other children who have rarely seen real joy. When angels like you introduce them to such happy energy you may just save them from a lifetime of misery.

    God bless you!

    Hugh 🙂

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