Thursday, August 2, 2012

This Inquiry Into The Nature Of Joy Is Totally Scientific I Swear

This is the four-mile trail from Sky Camp to
the beach, a hike we refer to as The Death
March - it's even more lovely than it looks.
I want you to talk to me about joy.

I'm not much for "please comment!" or "please share!" but this post is a little different. You see, I'm doing research, and I need your help. I need to know:

What brings you joy?

I've just come down from four days in the shocking beauty that is the Point Reyes National Seashore, and while I was up there, wandering around in the glorious sunlight (watching baby quails fluffing themselves in the dust, ospreys diving for fish, hummingbirds in the sticky monkey flower, bunnies hopping, fawns with big ears staring at me through the underbrush...what joy) I did some thinking. (Like you do when you've finished the only book you've backpacked up with you and there are about eleven hours of daylight left to ponder in.) And one of the things I thought about was - okay, so this Museum of mine. You know, it's really time to get started on that. And I know what I think about joy, but really? I don't know what everyone else thinks. But if I want to really start laying the foundation of a museum dedicated to joyousness, I'm going to need to learn a lot more about joy. So, ladies and germs, it's time to do a survey. It's TOTALLY SCIENTIFIC AND STUFF! by which I mean it's not, even a little bit. It is, however, very simple.

See, we spend a lot of time in our lives thinking and talking about the things that give us pain, or irritate us, or frustrate us, or anger us. (Well, some of us do. Others have a hard time even talking about that.) We don't talk much about the things that really deeply move us. Things we like, sure, and even love - movies, food, our partners, the great game last night, the new car we bought, what the heck ever. But take a second, if you will, to think of the last time you actually talked about a feeling of deep joy. Maybe you've had a feeling like that recently? I hope so, of course. But I don't mean just expressed joyfulness, or mentioned a joyful moment. I mean talked, really talked, about joy itself. Have you ever rhapsodized to someone about the smell of the garden in the early morning, a sudden moment of light in a rainstorm, the intense wild feeling you get when your lover looks at you with a little secret smile for no reason at all? Again, I hope so, of course. But it's been my experience that people are hard-pressed to find a forum in which talking about joy seems right and good. Sometimes it's just that the language doesn't come to us - the feeling can be so strong that it overwhelms words, and trying to put your finger on it can be more frustrating than rewarding.

But more often, I'd say, it simply doesn't seem appropriate to say, you know, sometimes, I walk outside at night and I see the lights of the city and the rain coming down and I feel this crazy vastness in my chest like maybe the world really is a miraculous and beautiful place after all. Or whatever it is for you. Because what's there to say to that? Yes, me too, or huh, I have no idea what you're talking about. And this, I think, is a great tragedy. Because joy is one of the deepest and most vivid of emotions, and one of the few we get to have that makes us think that being alive is worthwhile. And there's a lot of darkness out there, a lot of hopelessness. It's ever more important to recall to ourselves why it might be a good thing that we're here on this little blue rock. We can connect through our joy as much as through our suffering - but we have to be able to talk about it first.

And so I want you to talk to me about joy. If you comment on one post of mine, ever, let it be this one. I'll give you some questions you can use to spark an answer if you want - or just tell me about joy in any way you see fit. Take this moment to really dig deep into yourself. See, if you would, how intensely you can recall the sensation. It can be as simple as a certain moment of noticing the light, or as huge as the birth of a child. Just be totally honest. Don't censor yourself. Write it however you need to - poetically, plainly, stream-of-conscious, a whole story if you want, or just a few adjectives. Quite someone else if you have to, though I'd rather have your own words if I can. I want to know where joy lives in your life, whoever you are, whatever is true for you. Just leave it in the comments. (If you have a hard time leaving a comment for any reason, feel free to email me.)

What gives you the most joy? Describe to me, if you can, what about it makes you feel joyous.
What's the most potent memory of joy you can remember?
What does the sensation of joy feel like to you?
Fill in the blank: Joy is...

And then I would like to ask you for a favor. If you would, please share this post with friends, family, or the general masses of the internet. You can use the little gray buttons at the bottom of the post to share quickly on some sites, but feel free to spread it far and wide. I want as many answers as I can get my hands on.

I want to collect, here, in one place, the vastest compilation of experiences of joy that I possibly can. 

I want it to be ongoing, so if you come to this in a month, in a year, leave your answer anyway. I'll be checking. I will be grateful. I am grateful. Because I want to know. I want to build a Museum that honors your experience. So tell me what it is.


  1. Trying something for the first time, success after hard work, passing through great danger without harm, watching your child make an admirable sacrifice, finding out that somebody loves you, feeling acknowledgement from God . . . these things all give me a stirring feeling in my chest, and my body feels light, like I'm levitating, utterly content, excited, giddy. Maybe I'm smiling, maybe I'm not; I never really pay attention, but inside, it feels like the best of all highs.

  2. This may seem shallow, but just today I shared with my sister how much I love BMWs. I don't own one, and I'm not sure if I even want to. But as I told her, I just love that car. I said, "The BMW is MY car. I don't know if I actually want to own one. But I love them."

    Shallow, right? But for some reason, the sight of a BMW brings me joy. :)

    I will tweet your post.

    1. Thanks, Linda! And this is why I asked for honesty: I want to really know, whatever strange or irrational thing it seems to be.

  3. That moment, hiking up a mountain, when you come around a bend, and suddenly the whole world opens up before you like a map, and the ridges march away in front of you endlessly, each more beautiful and insubstantial than the last.

    Sunday morning, in a dingy warehouse, the music hits so hard you can feel your heart beat in your stomach, and then, just after dawn, some of the plastic covering the windows peels back, and a hint of sunlight leaks into the room. You turn to your girlfriend, and her eyes are so blue they stab you through the throat.

    At the park. With your dog. You let her off the leash, and when she sees the creek, and jumps into it, she's so happy she could pee.

    Sharing a smoke with a wise old man.

    Sharing a glass of Scotch Whiskey with a mentor.

    Holding on to the ones you loves.



    The truth.

    1. Thanks, Matt.

      ...I've got chills.

    2. Scotch with the mentor . . . that one is pretty awesome. Several defining moments of my life and career came about shooting the sh*t with my supervisor or my grandfather over a glass of scotch.

  4. The small moments of peace when all my troubles recede and the world narrows down to me and whoever I'm sharing it with in that moment--whether lover, family member, or pet. The troubles don't go away, but for those moments, they don't have the same level of influence over my life.

    Seeing my dog, curled into a dog bed that's almost too small for her, big floppy hound dog ears all over the place and an expression of such bliss on her face that I wish I were a dog.

    Sunday mornings spent in bed, alone or with someone else, and knowing the world is still going on outside the bedroom, but being content to let it carry on its forward march. I'll catch up later.

    Hearing music that hits a chord with me for its honesty. Whether it's lyrics or melody resonates with me, there's that little something that makes me take pause and sit and listen, really listen, to what's in the music.

    Rain -- whether it's a fierce downpour that I get caught in, when we've been in near-drought conditions, or the steady gentle patter that seems made to wake up a pair of lovers on Saturday morning.

    Loving and being loved. Unguardedly, unashamedly, giving everything I am to someone else and treasuring the parts of him that he gives back to me. Driving home as the sun sets and singing along to a song about new love on the radio, and knowing that whatever doubts I have don't matter.

  5. Watching my girls create -- whether that be using a new figure of speech; roleplaying family life or their exploits as superhero princesses; painting or drawing pictures; telling each other stories -- is so marvelous. I don't necessarily feel "proud" of their creativity, as if they are accomplishing something; I just enjoy it, the way they don't worry about whether they're doing it "right," the way they just create, create, create, building new worlds bigger than themselves, just for fun. It's just a joy to watch and listen to, and, when they invite me (ie. whenever they notice me nearby), to take part in.

  6. Last night my husband took me into Paris to see the Dark Night movie. Yes, we live 10 minutes outside Paris. France. Only this time he took me on the back of his new scooter. All I can say is, on our way home, flying past the Seine on a summer's night with a full moon and the lights of the city reflecting off the water, wind going through my hair- all I could think was 'now, THIS is LIFE. This is living.' It was amazing and one of those perfect moments where I was overjoyed and completely thankful for some of the glorious things I've been allowed to experience.

    1. Glorious indeed. I can just imagine that exhilaration. Thank you!

  7. What gives you the most joy? Describe to me, if you can, what about it makes you feel joyous.

    Running. Feeling the beads of sweat inching down my back or brow and believing they are tangible evidence of the release of toxic thoughts and feelings; feeling the strain of my muscles as proof that I am alive and growing better, not older.

    Going home to Connecticut and reconnecting with family. Feeling the longitude of my life that ameliorates the sharpness of distinction between “past” and “present.”

    Hearing the sound and watching the sight of my children playing together. Feeling the enormity of the utter uniqueness and singularity of the biological and emotional connection we share and wonderment at the role of destiny and fate in bringing us together.

    What's the most potent memory of joy you can remember?

    I am 11 years old, and I am standing in the woods of South Lake Tahoe, surrounded by evergreens and snow. I don’t recall ever smelling air that pure, feeling so comforted by silence, or so unafraid of being very small. It was the first time I felt my soul. It’s the only time I remember tears coming from my eyes, but no sobs from my lungs or movement from my body – as if my body was simply overflowing. Despite other joys in my life, I have never replicated that moment.

    What does the sensation of joy feel like to you?

    Joy doesn’t just “feel” for me – it is all of my senses. It smells like my grandparents’ kitchen, salty-sweet ocean air and wet pavement after the first rain of summer; it sounds like my children laughing; the collective roar of the crowd at a baseball game; the draw of a bow across violin strings as the violinist hits just the right note; it tastes like Thanksgiving, morning coffee, a midnight snack, a sip of a gin and tonic mid-conversation with a dear friend; it looks like a stolen glimpse of a wild animal in its natural habitat, a sleeping baby, falling snow, sunrise over a mountain; it feels like the first tickle of a new life growing in your womb, the soft, warm naked skin of my babies fresh from a bath, my husband’s hand cradling my face, the thrill of twirling around in the mirror while wearing the “perfect” dress, a nap in the warm sun.

    Fill in the blank: Joy is... Love, peace, relief, connection, independence, celebration, appreciation, clarity, anticipation, satisfaction.

    1. Oh, thank you. I can't help noticing how talking about joy seems to make poets of everyone. The language you've all been using is so rich and beautiful and full of feeling and intense, sensuous imagery. I'm fascinated to see what comes up as more people contribute their experiences.

  8. I've been feeling depressed for so long it's hard to remember what joy feels like. I'll have to think about it and get back to you! I think peace is the closest I've gotten to it in a while.

    1. I hope that thinking about joy brings it closer to you, and may it reenter your life soon and wonderfully!

  9. I find a lot of joy in the quiet moments. The last time I remember verbally expressing joy for something along those lines was sitting on the balcony of an Alaskan cruise liner sailing through the inner passage. It was early morning, I was wrapped in a blanket sitting in a deck chair, watching the awesomeness of the wild frontier float by. I turned to my wife who was occupying the other chair and told her how perfect everything was. Exquisite!

  10. This song.

    Hearing my children laugh their completely unfettered child laughs, the laughs that we eventually grow out of.

    Watching my oldest son patiently explain something to his younger brothers.

    The moment my husband told me we'd had a daughter and I told him to shut the fuck up because I didn't believe him.

    Finding a book that I've been looking for forever.

    Sitting on my porch watching a real rain fall.

    That moment that usually doesn't come until around 11 pm, when all of my children are in bed and actually asleep. When I have a few quiet minutes to myself to just breathe.

  11. Joy is:
    * when my husband wakes in the morning still with me(the stroke didn't claim him)
    * when my three sons who I love with every beat of my heart, call me
    * my granddaughter and angel Mady is always pure joy
    * opening the door to my fairy cottage playhouse and stepping inside... joy and pride intermingle when I realize this is a dream come true
    * sniffing the heavenly fragrance of the blooms on my red roses
    * fairy houses... creating them, looking inside and believing in the magic
    I've just realized there is more joy in my life than sadness.
    Thank you.

  12. Jericha: this is from Jo VonBargen; she has problems posting comments to Blogger:

    'What gives me joy? How I do love a ponderer. One day I had my then 12 week old grandson cuddled in the crook of my arm, rocking, while softly reading poetry to him. He never took his eyes off me, never dozed. When I was done, he gooed and gurgled it all back to me in the softest, mesmerizing tone…I was entranced.

    My heart melts when I see the look on 8-year-old granddaughter Kyndall's face when she gets up in the morning and shuffles into the kitchen. Seeing her, I exclaim "Bella mia!!" and give her a hug. She always grins, blushing madly, and I can just see pure happiness wash over her.

    Other moments of joy:

    A deep pond in the Alaska wild where a moose suddenly rose up, dripping, like a god from the bowels of the earth.

    On my farm, I pulled on my Wellies to walk along the lake out back before the sun fully rose, and there were three tight little balls of ants rolling on the surface, rolling, rolling, rolling, as if to say, "Boy, it's wet out. I'll hold my breath and dunk under, you quickly grab some air, then it's my turn again. Don't forget me, mate." --Jo VonBargen @jvonbargen

    1. Thank you, Jo. And thanks, Rob, for sharing it here.

  13. What brings me joy?
    The feeling of reading a really good book and not wanting it to end.
    Coming home to a clean house.
    Petting my cats.
    Watching a silly movie with my kids.
    Traveling. I love going somewhere new and seeing all these people that I don't know and probably never will. I love airports and watching people. For some reason I feel small and somewhat insignificant in the grand scheme of things and I like that feeling of being just a tiny speck in the world. For some that may bring panic, but for me it brings joy.
    When my husband brings me coffee in bed.
    Playing pool.
    Sex and spooning.
    Letters in the mailbox.
    And like Linda, I think a Mustang (not a BMW) would bring me a wee bit of joy. I love to drive.

    I know, not very poetic or magnificent.

    1. Not poetic or magnificent? Hmm. Those are both words I would certainly use for this - especially your description of the joy you find in airports, travel, and the experience of insignificance. Thank you!

    2. Okay, I totally forgot something else. I love pedicures and having my hair washed. I get a pedicure maybe once a month and I get my hair trimmed every three months, so these are kind of rare joys. I am not a touchy feely person, so when I am being touched by someone whose job it is to scrub my feet or my scalp, I find it strangely intimate in a non-sexual. Kind of weird, but I went to get a pedicure today and I was like, DAMN, I forgot to mention that!

    3. that should say "in a non-sexual way." :)

    4. ahh, the small joys of the flesh are important.

  14. On our recent camping trip:
    Getting up in the morning before the kids and sitting out on the deck with creek gurgling down below while having a mocha and writing. Ah, man... that was so peaceful and happy.

    Also, finishing a book. Writing it, not reading it.

  15. Your questioning of joy has made me quite curious. I think I'll bring this up with friends later.

    This may be odd but the most joyous moments I have are in my moments of utter sadness. When I'm in a dark place, as consuming as everything feels, I also view everything all the more beautiful in a magnified sense.

    That's what brings me the most joy; the beauty I can still see and notice in everything whatever it is when I'm not feeling like looking for the beautiful things, if that makes sense.

    It ranges from different ends of the spectrum. For example, suddenly noticing the detail in the stitching of a jumper I've left on my bed, and appreciating how skilled we humans are and how far we've come. Another example is when I'm crying and suddenly find joy in the odd but intriguing pattern of splattered tear drops.

    So, yes, I find joy in sometimes the least joyful of places.

    1. I'd love to know what your friends have to say.

      Hearing about the discovery of joy in unlooked-for places is wonderful. The idea that there's a joy in finding beauty even (especially?) when you're not looking for it makes perfect sense to me. Thank you!

  16. I cycled under a grey dusk sky. The wet grass was snatching at my ankles and the smell of the damp soil was everywhere and the still faintly warm summer air carried the smell of coconuts (gorse bush flowers). It was all the things that meant I was home, and the feeling was so strong it ached. And I think that that ache was the true joy, because it meant I had a home, and memories from it, and a childhood there which I wanted to remember, and a life there now which I want to continue.

    (Also, my sister when she's happy. That's probably best kind of joy I feel.)

    1. Oh, gorgeous. I have such a strong sensory image of that, even down to the ache. Thank you.

  17. The process of making something--research, assembling materials, then sitting down to do it. The moment in the process when your body takes over the work and your mind gets to sit back and watch what your muscles know about art.

    Dancing. Any dancing, really, but especially our kind of dancing, where there is a lot of laughter and friends all around. The one transcendant song that everybody wants to move to. A whole room of bodies that MUST move and are unembarassed to do so.

    The spot on the Hudson where we scattered my father's ashes. The hike to get there is difficult and we had to stop several times because we were out of breath, but the closer we got to the water, the more it looked like the ruins of something ancient. My mom told me that the spot used to be where the wives of sailors would wait for their husbands to return from voyages. It was where my parents had their first date. There's a rope swing there that's been there for at least thirty years. We scattered the ashes, and then my mom swung for a while crying. And that place, even though we were all so sad, was a joyful one. It felt right to be there.

    Performing a poem on stage. Seeing people in the audience leaning forward, waiting for the next word. Having someone come up to me after the reading and hug me.

    Hugs, for that matter. There is nothing better than being wrapped in a person I love, especially after a long time apart. Airport hugs, and the ones where you actually run at each other from across the street. (Wayne's hugs are the most joyful physical experience I can think of besides really transcendant sex or dancing.)

    The last few hours of a road trip, when your body is over-tired and you are nearly home.

    Singing along to the radio, opening my motuh as wide as it goes.

    So many things. I will come back when I tink of more.

  18. Many things bring me joy but perhaps none as much as sharing the soul-healing magic of spontaneous, unbridled laughter with those I love. :)

  19. What brings me joy?

    Seeing words flow onto the page as a I write.
    Laughing with friends over a cup of coffee.
    Saying thank you to someone.
    Lazy, rainy mornings spent in bed.
    The magic of a really tight hug.
    The smell of coffee brewing.
    Watching my cat play with a ball of blue yarn.
    Reading great books as I curl up in my armchair.
    Getting greeted on Twitter even if it's just a simple good morning.
    Hearing someone say thank you to me.
    Learning something new, something to think about.
    Playing with my niece and seeing her smile.
    Staying in the park with my notebook and a pen.
    Eating something that someone cooked for me.

    All of these things, simple though they are, bring me a lot of joy. You'll also notice that many of them are simple, but they always cause a smile to appear on my face. Hope I've helped!

  20. A bike ride on the greenway at the end
    Of summer always makes me smile. On one
    I made a little predatory friend.
    The grasshoppers, who, basking in the sun
    We're chased away by my approach, all hopped
    From their spots on the pavement, right into
    The path of one lone mantis. So I stopped
    And watched her prey, or at least attempt to
    Catch one of those dumb hoppers I had scared
    Towards her. They were frantic; she was still
    And patient, through the whole time that I stared
    At her. She was just waiting for her kill!
    While I was there she went without a meal
    I hope she found one after I took wheel.

    1. I can't believe you wrote a POEM I am so honored.

  21. From a friend:

    On joy – On Writing

    It’s not the big moments. At least not for me. My life has largely been devoid of those multiple, milestone events that we would normally associate with joyous occasions.

    Ah, but the small moments. My life has been replete with tiny, wondrous moments of joy that inspire both gratitude and the gravitational pull to put pen to paper. Cradling a sleeping child, my nieces’ laughter, friends and family gathered in my home around food that I prepared, intimate conversations, a poignant line from the poem of a dear friend, a neighbor’s puppy who lays at my feet, with wagging tail begging to be touched, a firefly on a warm night, my daughter (anything and everything to do with that amazing creature), artistry in any form that moves me to tears; this is joy. It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) any salon service you can think of also fits in this category.

    These are the moments of joy that propel me to write. These are the moments where hidden truths are unearthed, where stories are discovered, where the lines that divide us are torn and our shared humanity is exposed. And for me, as a woman and as an artist, these miniscule moments are the lifelines that pull me back from the brink of despair, that keep me from a perpetual state of mourning, and remind me to give place to hope.

    This muse rescues me. Writing saves my life. And I hope, when others read my work, joy is what keeps them returning to the well.

    Davita Joie


Please do try to be thoughtful and considerate when posting comments, but we do love hearing what you think!

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