When discussing the malaise that many of us are feeling, an associate of mine recently observed, “The world feels heavy all over”. Many factors have contributed to this mental fog, including the Covid virus, the lockdowns, extreme political and ideological division in every aspect of our daily lives, the caustic and partisan media on both sides of the aisle, and our general feeling of disconnectedness.
Although many of us as adults are experiencing the discomfort that comes with this current reality, most of us have the necessary coping skills and the benefit of a lifetime of challenges to navigate our way through these troubling times. Our young people may not have these life skills and may well be suffering far more than we realize.
So how do we assist our children to develop a lasting sense of joy, in spite of the negativity and hardships they may be facing from the outside world. Before we answer that question, we need to discuss the difference between happiness and joy. By definition, happiness is a response to happenstance, contentment, good luck, prosperity, or good fortune. Happiness is also a reaction to pleasure. In other words, happiness is a response to worldly influences.
Joy, on the other hand, is a personal fullness or sense of completeness in one’s entire life; or, a deep peace which comes from the indwelling of God within a person, and lasts despite hardship. Happiness comes and goes, but joy lasts and cannot be taken from us once we have it.
Unfortunately, we cannot share what we do not have. Do we have a sense of joy in our lives (ie: personal fullness / sense of completeness / deep peace) that is not dependent on what the world throws at us? Or are we consumed and overwhelmed by outside influences and the negativity of others? Perhaps an important first step in developing a sense of joy is to turn our attention inward versus outward. Not inward in the secular sense of selfishness or narcissism, but rather a self-analysis of what aspects of our lives may be working against that joy. Are we overly focused on what others think, or what others have, or events in the world that are out of our control? Do we count our blessings and realize that in the whole of human history, including 2020, we are the most fortunate human beings in regard to personal freedom and opportunity for self-fulfillment? Do we see the good in others despite the fact that all of us will disappoint one another on a fairly regular basis?
As that sense of joy begins to build, some of our anxiety, frustrations, and anger will begin to dissipate. Joy will not make the challenges of our lives go away; however, joy will provide us with a new sense of perspective that will allow us to view those hardships through a more positive and grounded lens. Eventually we will be able to share that joy with others as it will become a part of who we are. We can be more present to those around us instead of being self-consumed and pre-occupied. As joy becomes a habit, we will naturally navigate away from those influences (people, social media, ‘news’) that steals or disrupts our joy.
This joy should direct every aspect of our lives, from how we greet each other in the morning to how we deal with difficulties or personal conflicts within our homes. If our kids come to us stressed or obsessing on a negative aspect of their lives, we can provide them perspective on the issue and assure them that they are good. We can celebrate the little things in life and focus on the joy of being together. We can complement our children daily and limit the negative comments. We can shut down our screens and laugh more as a family.
Focusing on today will become our priority and we will worry less about the future.
We will then model that joy to our children. We will be able to guide our children in accepting / rejecting various inputs in their life to create their own sense of inner peace and contentment. They will see our joy and that joy will be contagious.
This Christmas season, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 13: 15)