Joy is, in part, an act of the will

As if the Philosopher Princess didn’t have anything else to be thinking about right now, she has decided to start ruminating about JOY.

I need to process these thoughts right now, because there is nothing like being told that you need to “serve your family with joy” to get the overthinker in me worrying that I will never feel joy again. It’s like when you don’t have a dime in your pocket and you go into a store and want everything you see, but then suddenly you have a gift certificate and you find that you can’t choose. (Oh…I am the only one who experiences this? Okay. Bad example.)

There is a spiritual element to joy: the “anointed with the oil of joy” thing we talked about.

But let me ask you something: when your youngest snaps at you because you made him elbow pasta instead of spaghetti (although he did ask for elbow pasta) and refuses to eat it, all while grumbling at you, and your thoughts are more “I would like to wring your ungrateful little neck” than, “Of course, my darling, it would give me great joy to start over in order to please you…” you have to wonder where that “oil of joy” might have gone, or if it exists at all.

As I stood there with a plateful of elbow pasta, I had a very distinct thought: “This is NOT joy.”

This was something, but it was not joy.

The same thing happened yesterday when I was putting bikes and scooters and skateboards in the car, and I couldn’t remember what order everything needed to go in, in order to make it all fit. So I was standing in the parking lot at the skatepark, all of our little vehicles on the pavement, grumbling because I couldn’t get the biggest of the bikes to fit. I was sweating, I had just cut my hand, there were people waiting for my parking space and I was swearing under my breath.

This is NOT joy. I mumbled. This was definitely something, but it was not joy.

So then what?

Honest answer? Have no idea. What did not help was saying, “I hate doing this. I hate all these bikes and scooters. Why do we have to bring all of them all the time?” That did not help.

But what I know is that articulating, and recognizing that what I was feeling was as far removed from joy as east is from the west, well, it helped be take a deep breath and re-center my thoughts.

Just in that one act of recognizing that this feeling was not joy, it was like I was working on building my internal definition of what joy actually is. Sometimes definitions include antonyms. So why wouldn’t my emotional vocabulary start defining in antonyms, too? Recognizing and naming this sense of overwhelm and frustration as something that was killing my joy-buzz was a moment of me being real with myself and, if he was listening, with God too.

I don’t know if there will ever be a day that I feel joy as I do that 3D trunk puzzle of scooters and bikes and skateboards, but I do know that this is part of my service to my family. Which means that even in this, I want to explore what joy would be like.

Which leads to the title of today’s article: Joy is (in part) an act of the will. In the small, everyday details of serving my family, I can choose to grumble (which I often do) or I can choose something else. That something else, yesterday, was to say, “This is not joy.”

I’m not a good enough person to be able to say something pretty like, “I should count my blessings! I’m so grateful that we have all these bikes and scooters and skateboards.” (That would simplify everything immensely, now wouldn’t it?) I’m pretty sure that if I were able to shift my thoughts to gratitude instead of grumbling, I would be able to make some headway on this subject.

I think that joy in this is going to have to start with an act of the will: actively shoving the garbage can lid over the negative thoughts, the way I would if I knew there was a rat in a garbage can. I can’t do anything about the negative thoughts yet–hopefully that will come. But I can at the very least, keep them from nibbling around the edges of my family life by cutting them off when they start.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

4 thoughts on “Joy is, in part, an act of the will

  1. Very true, and a profound experience. I have these moments all the time. ( and RightNow mine center around an 11 year old cat, whom I love ) who needs to take medicine, and refuses to eat her food (with a 1/16” diameter pill mixed in with her food.)


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