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What Is Joy?

Exploring The Seven States of Joy

Joy — So Much More Than An Emotion!

In our modern world, joy is a seemingly elusive and ephemeral experience. So many daily actions are justified by searching for this distant state of being. People engaging in relationships, career-seeking, and nights on the town often have an expectation to experience joy, but then experience a corresponding anger and disappointment when joy is not found. When life’s circumstances appear to offer no possibility for joy, it’s easy to become mired in despair. 

But what exactly is joy?

It is easy to label joy as a simple emotion, but joy is far more encompassing. You may not entertain the possibility of feeling joy and pain at the same time, and yet this occurs every moment of every day. Simultaneous joy and pain sometimes occurs for people who suffer from a fatal disease, and it even occurred in rare cases amid the horrors of Nazi death camps. Joy is not mutually exclusive from any experience.

People commonly think that they cannot feel joy and pain at the same time, or that they can’t feel joy in combination with another emotion, such as grief, remorse, anger, terror, or rage. It is this preconception, seemingly paradoxically, that largely blocks people from experiencing joy. With this pre-decision already made, you find myriad circumstances that justify why joy is always in your future, but not now. You feel emotions that preclude joy, therefore you think you must work to resolve them. You think you must attain financial stability to avoid fear, so you seek counseling to transform “negative emotions”, and you think you must find a good stable relationship to “win” joy. 

This is a never-ending battle. Joy is never in the present moment, but always over the next hill, and the next, and the next, until the hills become mountains.

And yet, there is always the possibility for joy to intrude under any circumstance:

Joy In Action: A Walk In Drenching Rain

During your walk home one evening from a work event, a freak thunderstorm occurs. You are dressed formally, and at first you’re miserable because of your concern and disappointment about the effect the rain will have on your clothes. You rage at your helplessness in the face of the weather. You start to feel cold and are afraid you will get sick. You are filled with thoughts and emotions of what an awful experience you’re having.

And yet, in a blink of a moment it doesn’t matter any more. Like a child, you start to giggle and dance in the rain. A sudden feeling of exhilaration takes over you, and you skip and jump, splashing water left and right. You even jump right into the biggest puddle on the street just to make a huge splash. Your concern over clothes and the cold has not disappeared, but it now it co-exists with joy.

Did the rain cause your joy? Of course not. Your joy was always there; it was simply that the rain gave you an opportunity to surrender completely to your experience. In this surrendering, you allowed yourself to experience exactly what was happening in the present moment. Through this surrender to the present moment, you discovered innocence — and joy.

Joy Is a State of Surrender

Joy can indeed co-exist with all experiences. You can feel joy in getting angry at someone who crosses healthy boundaries; it is not that you enjoy punishing someone, but you enjoy stating firmly what you want. Anger is part of your wholeness. You can feel joy in intimacy, or joy in surrender to the experience of isolation and loneliness that occurs when a relationship ends. Many great works of art have been created from this heightened state. 

The root of joy is a state of surrender, of allowing. And because it is simply surrender, which is available to you at all times, there is no experience you can possibly imagine that has no room for joy in its midst. Some experiences require more surrender than others to reach a state of joy, but this does not mean that there is no joy there. It simply means there is a lack of trust. Surrendering to the experience of a fatal disease, for example, requires tremendous trust, and society is built on distrust. However, even in such painful times, the potential to experience joy is there.

Joy falls on a spectrum, which relates to the experience of surrender and Love. The following spectrum shows a range of joys, from the most simple to the most all-encompassing.

 

The Seven States of Joy

The joy of survival. Contentment to feel and breathe inside a human body.

The joy of community. Connecting with others like yourself; a joy of being a part of something greater than you.

The joy of making an impact. Reveling in your desires without shame or control.

The joy of intimacy. Vulnerability and exchange with another — a truly opening experience.

The joy of childlike play. The world feels full of innocence and wonder, and you experience freedom and communion with others in the moment.

The joy of awareness. You feels the deep nature of interconnectedness with all beings, and your joy shifts to simply being.

The joy of oneness. You no longer experience any separation, and thus all “problems” are not seen as problems at all, but as expressions of Love.

The Courage To Find Joy In EVERY Moment

All of these states of joy build on each other in greater surrender. Each level encompasses the previous one, without anything denied – if you do not appreciate basic breathing and the feeling of being alive, for instance, it will be impossible to appreciate community or intimacy. 

These states are available in every single moment in your life. From the most mundane office meeting to the most passionate lovemaking, and even to the most excruciating pain, joy underlies the experience that awaits your surrender. This joy does not detract from the experience, but provides support and awareness of it. Pain still exists in the midst of joy, but you witness the pain rather than get lost in it.

It takes great courage to find this level of surrender while in the most trying circumstances. It requires diving off a cliff of certainty about the meaning attached to your experience, and into the unknown. Joy is unknown, because it cannot be encapsulated by labels. Joy is beyond reason, beyond anything but the surrender of yourself to the state of not knowing — simply experiencing and allowing. 

And because this is all it is, the never-ending flight that comes from taking that step off the cliff, the experience of joy is available to you in every moment.

 

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