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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding Joy

As I was running today, I stopped to catch my breath and watch a couple of dogs play in the large grassy area behind a nearby school. Their play showed total joy, unencumbered by worry about daily life or looking silly or problems at home. Dogs are like that; they live in the moment. Worry is not part of their being. They find joy in the smallest things. My dogs are as happy to see me when I've been gone 10 minutes as when I've been away for 8 hours.

All of this started me thinking about joy. What is joy, anyway? One dictionary defines joy as "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation."

For me, joy isn't found in possessions, but in experiences and feelings. I like having nice possessions, but while they may provide comfort, they don't bring me joy.

My definition of joy is:

Getting up at 5 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning, feeding the dogs, then going back to bed and being consciously aware of feeling warm under the blankets, appreciating my wonderful mattress, and knowing that I can stay in bed as long as I want to.

Putting on my robe, drinking a cup of hot tea and reading the Sunday paper, holding the world at a distance for even a short time.

My bicycle tour of southwestern Ireland nearly 6 years ago. I could stop at will and take pictures of ancient castles or sheep grazing on the greenest fields I have ever seen. Even today, looking at my pictures of clouds reflected in a window or boats atop a glassy inlet just after dawn, or streets lined with colorful buildings brings back not only memories, but joy. Eating 3 hearty meals every day and not gaining any weight was joyful. Realizing at the end of the day that I had ridden 25 or 35 or even 45 miles brought me joy. I was pushing myself physically, riding well, and felt really good about my accomplishments at the end of the day.

Taking crazy pictures with my daughter, and laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.

Listening to a favorite piece of music over and over again because hearing it once just isn't enough.

Studying a beautiful photograph and trying to learn how to improve my own photos.

Listening to Leontyne Price or Charlotte Church hit those incredibly high notes in some of their songs and being in awe at the magnificence of their voices.

Working on a piece of writing, manipulating the sentences and individual words until it's just right.

Taking a photograph and seeing that I got it just as I had envisioned it.

Watching dogs running and playing, ears flapping, tongues hanging out as they chase after each other.

These experiences can't be bought for any amount of money. They are priceless.

Each of us has a personal definition of what brings us joy. I hope I can do a better job of being aware of the joyful possibilities around me, in simple activities, in the beauty of nature or in the creations of humans blessed with a magnificent voice or the skills to compose music or take an awe-inspiring photograph. I can learn from the actions of my dogs, who don't carry grudges, who are always happy to see me, who jump up each morning ready to greet a new day, and who get excited at the preparations for a walk, no matter we have walked that route hundreds of times already.

Joy can be found all around us. We just need to look for it and open ourselves to its presence.