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In these Afghanistan-collapsing, Ida-wrecking, COVID-killing days, I've been trying to focus on something, well, different.

Joy.

Appreciative joy.

What is that?

Yep, that was my question, too. For me, so practiced at recognizing what's wrong with the world instead of what's right with it, appreciative joy feels like learning a new language.

"Joy gladdens our hearts; it eases the mind; it has the taste of delight and happiness," writes Christina Feldman in "Boundless Heart."

Delight? Now? Look at the world!

"Joy is not a denial of sorrow or an artificial contrivance but an inclination of our hearts that softens and eases the difficult," she writes.

Appreciative joy doesn't despair, judge or criticize, nor does it focus on what's wrong, what isn't, what shouldn't be. It does not guilt-trip.

Appreciative joy celebrates the good fortune of others and our own.

Appreciative joy does indeed look at the world and all its goodness.

Why can that seem so hard?

"For years I taught in a university in the same room every week, and the carpet on the floor was nothing special, but it had a coffee stain. And the coffee stain lived there for years. And people would sometimes come into the room, and the first thing they would talk about was the coffee stain on the carpet," Feldman and Jaya Rudgard write in Tricycle.

The rest of the carpet was fine.

But all people saw?

The stain.

Joy, without denying the stains of life, reminds us of the rest of the carpet.

"Yes, there is affliction, there is that which is broken and that which is heartbreaking in life. It lives side by side with that which is well, or that which can be celebrated and appreciated," they write.

One great enemy to appreciative joy is the media, which capitalizes on our tendencies toward negative bias. I take my media now like I do alcohol: in moderation. If our industry is going to evolve, it must address the negativity and fear we emit into the collective American mind.

But that's a story for another day.

As I focus on joy, I realize it often feels inappropriate somehow, like betrayal or survivor guilt. I live and work in some of the most comfortable spheres on planet Earth. Billions wake up each day without access to the food sitting on one shelf of my fridge.

How do I make peace with that?

"For me, the only antidote for my own despair is to dwell on what is good and pure and true, and to try, like you, to make a difference in the lives of those in the garden where God has placed me. Focus on what I can do; not what I can't do," one friend said.

This idea of mine? That I cannot be at peace until others are, too? She called it a false belief.

"A commitment to choose joy and life in spite of the darkness that overwhelms us all takes discipline and wisdom and constant discernment, none of which are characteristics of a lightweight," she said.

Open both eyes, joy seems to say. You already see suffering. Can you see goodness as well?

"Tell me," my meditation teacher began, "will there ever be a time when people aren't suffering?"

No, I say. People will always be suffering.

"Does diminishing your own joy help them?"

No.

"So why do you do it?"

Here is one fact: Today in Chattanooga, people are being evicted. Or having their water shut off. Or electricity. Or sleeping in cars, boxes, rats nearby.

Their lives are not coffee stains on the floor; they are human, children of God, suffering under a human-made system of greed and negligence.

How do I practice appreciative joy knowing I am the recipient of this system designed to benefit me over others?

What is my responsibility? Where does it begin? And end?

Here is another fact: Today in Chattanooga, trillions upon zillions of beautiful moments will occur. They are small, intimate, large, spectacular. They are ours, healing, warm, expansive.

The sound of our beloved. The rich patina of leaves, still green on the trees. Birds in flight, flowers in bloom, a joke well-told, the way our hearts expand when we give. The rise and fall of our own breathing.

What do we focus on in this life?

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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