"We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them."
So goes the poetry of artist and writer Khalil Gibran. I've been thinking a lot about the concept of joy lately. How in the world does one have joy while things are difficult?
One of my friends once read that joy can be described as a simple, "I'm glad to be with you." A few days ago, I had dinner with a former colleague who has been out of work for quite awhile and running against time constraints to rectify unemployment's many challenges. Needless to say, he was feeling the pinch, aware of all the worst-case scenarios and not sure he could ward them off.
I wanted to help out, but soon realized that the help I offered had mostly been tried. I was quickly running out of new ideas.
Finally. I had to acknowledge this to my old friend, and we then focused on how nice it was to simply meet and talk over dinner. He was grateful for the moment even if it did not lead to a specific solution. At least it was a warm distraction from the struggle -- and a chance to share the weight with someone else for a change.
Helpless as I felt, I hoped he knew I had tried, and if nothing else, was willing to sit and be present with him. I was glad to be with him, as he was with me. Perhaps this was a tiny piece of joy in the middle of very rough waters.
Though most people distinguish happiness (fleeting) from joy (abiding), they are quite similar and are therefore included in each other's definitions. A key aspect of joy, however, is that it can be realized as a result of the expectation of something good, not just the experience of it.
This is the key to experiencing it during dark moments, when happiness is more obscure. It is about having hope of something better to come, and bravely clinging to that hope against other odds.
Later, while talking to another friend over the phone, we began to discuss how best to approach life's uncertainties. He maintained that seeing the full picture before moving forward was really not necessary. "Imagine it like this," he said, "you take one step, and the road appears, like Magnito in the X-Men movie.
"The road doesn't appear until you take that step. You walk by faith, and you find out what the possibilities will be one step at a time."
I ate it up. I felt hope rising again inside me. I allowed myself to believe that something exciting, new, or meaningful could happen at any moment. Will it? I don't know, but the very thought gives me joy, and that's all I need for now.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a therapist at CBI/Richmont Counseling Center. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.