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Rediscovering JoyMarch 12, 2013
When one has experienced a major loss of someone central in our lives, the waves of grief ebb and flow. This can last for months or years. Then, very gradually, almost imperceptibly, the grief settles into a gentler rhythm and sadness is replaced by memories. At this point, there are two possible ways we tend to respond: one is to sink into a low-level depression. The other is to celebrate our loved one’s freedom and begin to seek our own.
We recognize the brevity of our time on this plane of existence and ask ourselves, “What now?” Whether one has ample or few resources, there is always choice. How will we spend the precious hours left to us? Will we cherish our time and honour the purpose of our lives?
I recently read a wonderful article referring to psychologist and holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, author of the classic life-changing book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he distinguishes between happiness, which comes from external events, and meaning, which may not always make us happy, but which always enhances our inner sense of purpose.
Reflecting on this point, I have discerned varying levels of happiness. From the Virtues Project perspective of life as one long teachable moment in which to cultivate the virtues of our souls, to bring to fruition the content of our character, there are at least four developmental levels of genuine joy:
- Pleasure, which is to enjoy ourselves physically or emotionally when we are in the midst of a positive experience.
- Happiness, which is to feel good in the midst of positive events.
- Joy, which is to be true to a soulful purpose, bringing a sense of fulfillment and meaning, whether one is in a pleasurable situation or in the midst of sacrifice.
- Contentment, which is to be utterly open to all the Divine possibilities of life and to experience deep gratitude for the gift of life itself.
Until we find our own place of service, our happiness is incomplete. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Always, the question for reflection is, “What are my deepest yeses at this season of my life?” For some it is contentment with what is, for others it is to seek the new.
Why not fling wide the door of openness in seeking our true joy, our deepest contentment? We may find that the bluebird of happiness is in our own backyard, as the story goes, or we may enter a new world of possibilities.