Sure, I felt joy on my wedding day. And I certainly felt it when I held my healthy newborn babies. I felt joy when something wonderful happened to me or someone I loved – my sister was nominated for a big journalism award!! -my dad got a hole in one!! – my kids got big fat envelopes from colleges!! But to tell you the truth, I’m pretty new to feeling joy in everyday life. Or maybe I’m just new to recognizing what joy feels like.
One afternoon, about five years ago, I was in the 6th grade classroom where I had been teaching for several years. As classrooms go, this was a beauty – brick walls, high peaked ceiling, old windows opening onto an inner courtyard, lots of colorful posters, and kids work covering every available space. While I always appreciated the space, as any teacher will agree, some days are better than others. On this particular afternoon the room was quietly humming with activity. The students were working on a big project and each small cluster of kids was engaged in some aspect of the work. They were clearly invested in what they were doing, quietly talking, sharing, helping each other out. They had little need for my help or attention, and it occurred to me that they had taken on full ownership of the work. I felt a warmth and peace envelope me like a favorite old sweater as I watched them. A feeling that I later recognized as joy.
Another afternoon I was lying on my son’s bed, both dogs at my feet, listening to him play the piano. I felt warm, comfortable, totally content as he played song after song and the dogs snoozed snoring in unison. There was nowhere else I wanted to be, nothing else I wanted to be doing, no way the experience could have improved. I felt that warmth, peace, and contentment again. I felt joy.
Once I recognized that feeling as joy, I began to be aware of it more often. And it turned out to be easy to find. I found joy walking home from work in snowy London; joy playing with my dog on the beach in San Francisco; joy in a family dinner eaten in the backyard; joy in a book, a skein of yarn, a crisp cucumber; joy in raucous celebrations and solitary moments.
Seems like joy is everywhere. I just needed to name the feeling.