I have young children, of whom the two youngest are non-identical (and very different) twin boys. They mean the world to me, and my wife and I are constantly amused and inspired by their personalities and their challenges and the journeys of discovery they are constantly on. One is a quiet thinker, who can’t walk yet but insists on climbing everything in sight, and teeters on the brink of a no-strings-attached bungee off the dining room table every single day… The other can walk, and operates at FULL VOLUME ALL THE TIME. They have such boundless energy, such a passion for the next stimulus, the next toy, the next thing they see. Their energy is relentless, and often taxes us to the limit as we race around in opposite directions managing one crisis after another. (How my wife does it on her own when I am at work, who knows… my theory is tranquiliser darts, but she denies this.)
We all know that almost all adults are not much like this. More sedate, dignified, focussed, more in control of their world, and what they give attention to. And in many ways this is good and right. It gets all those grown-up things we need to do, done.
And yet, I know some different adults, living successfully in both worlds. I know some adults who are so full of life, and zest, and creativity, and, well, joy. They can’t stop having fun. One of them is an advertising guru. No matter where you are in the world, chances are you’ve seen some of her work. The other is a photographer, whose infectious joy and passion for creating beauty is awe inspiring. Her work with children is magnificent. Another is a nurse I used to work with, whose positive effect on patients was profound. Surrounded by other people’s pain and misfortune, she was – and is – a breath of fresh air in a sterile, hurting world.
The other day, I met another different adult. She was at a market, and she was weaving flax into baskets. On her table were all sorts of things she had woven, from bags, to baskets to bracelets. We all stopped to watch, and as we do, my wife and I struck up a conversation. It got away from us both; she had so much passion for her work and for sharing it with us.
The common trend with these wonderful people, and with the many others I have not mentioned, is their joy. They are still like children in their ability to find joy, to reach out and touch something, and have it come to life in their imagination. Unsullied by yesterdays difficulties, holding at bay tomorrows issues, they are ALIVE to the present, living it to the full and enjoying it. And I do get, that to some extent this may be their personality make up. I do get that.
But I don’t think it’s only that.
Personally, I think joy is something we can cultivate. I don’t think joy is an “emotion”, per se. Happiness is an emotion. I think joy is more of an emotional state. It’s a place we can reside emotionally, as opposed to an emotion we can have for a brief period of time… It’s the place we can respond FROM, as opposed to the response itself.
We can choose it, and allow it to take root in us, by keeping in perspective the worries and the fears that can stifle it. Not always easy, but I am convinced that almost every adult can, if they wish, explore and find a constant sense of wonder and joy at their world.
I have tried to do this as a dad. I sometimes find myself distracted from my little ones by the pressure of the day, and sometimes I have seen the smiles fade, and the joy and the light go out in their eyes when daddy didn’t pay attention to their imaginings and their worlds. My heart breaks when I see that. I never want my grown up, boring world to steal something beautiful and innocent away from my children. So I have resolved to have a child-like joy with them, enjoying the moments as much as they do. Yes, it felt silly at first, but quickly it has become fun and rewarding as they are energised by my participation in their games… now we all look forward with the same excitement to the tickle monster, the picnics, and the bed-time stories, and all sorts of stuff.
At first it was just with them, but slowly it is becoming a joy I experience every day, as my own world becomes alive to the beauty and fun available to me in almost every situation. My marriage; my work; riding my motorbike; listening to music – all of these have taken on a new sense of fulfilment.
What a gift, to have been reminded me of this!