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August 2011 – Joy


The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift. ~Albert Einstein

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. ~Buddha

Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. ~Mother Teresa

Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Think back to your childhood for a moment. Did anyone ever sit you down and talk with you about how to live a joyful and passionate life? Was this a frequent topic of discussion in the classroom, or at the dinner table? If so, then chances are good you came into contact with a significantly advanced soul. Most of our childhood lessons are in fact about being successful, not about being happy. And the one, unfortunately, does not necessarily lead to the other.

In school, lessons are about history, geography, mathematics, grammar. The emphasis is ultimately on preparing each student for future training in a trade, be it technical school, college, or even a Ph.D. program. The curriculum is concerned with financial success, not happiness. And although financial success can provide the most basic aspects of human satisfaction–food, clothing, shelter–beyond these the connection between money and happiness is tenuous at best.

At home, most lessons are designed to promote socially acceptable ideas and behavior. Knowing how to fit in is a form of social success. Children learn to eat with utensils instead of their hands. They are reminded to say “please” and “thank you.” They are instructed (hopefully) not to bite, not to hit, not to lie, not to steal. In short, they are indoctrinated with the countless behavioral, moral, and legal codes of our inherited civilization.

But here, again, learning how to “fit in” covers only the most basic level of happiness. We are glad not to be outcasts, but at the same time, “fitting in” can be its own source of sadness and disappointment. In the days before the modern feminist movement, how many women would have been happier as doctors or lawyers than they were being housewives? How many doctors and lawyers today would be happier as auto mechanics if they weren’t concerned about their social “status”? What percentage of each human lifetime is spent worrying about what other people think?

Teaching children to succeed both financially and socially is an important task, but it will not ensure their happiness. “Living a joyful and passionate life” needs to be added to the childhood curriculum.

Unfortunately, schools aren’t likely to squeeze it in between history and gym class anytime soon. So how can we teach these lessons at home? There are two important avenues, and both are necessary for the greatest effect. First, provide your children with a living example. Practice the art of living a joyful and passionate life however, whenever, and wherever you can.

Second, engage your children in a dialog on the subject. You won’t have all the answers. You aren’t supposed to. So explore the possibilities together. Talk to them openly about your greatest joys. Ask them about their dreams. Experience those joys and dreams together, and explore new possibilities as they arise. This will jump start a wonderfully positive cycle of shared learning and growth.

If you’re having trouble opening the conversation, try asking them what they think makes people happy and see what they say. You might learn something. (Remember what Paula Poundstone says: adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up because the grown-ups are looking for ideas.)

These conversations are pure gold. They will encourage your children to pursue a joyful life, and they will remind you to do the same. In fact, the conversations themselves are likely to be among your greatest joys. Sharing your most profound inspirations with the people you love most in the world is about as joyful as it gets. That’s lesson number one. You can build the rest of the syllabus together.

Books to Share With Children

Read books that illustrate and encourage being Joyful. Check your library for some of those listed here. Each one provides opportunities to discuss the results of joy.

  • The Garden of Happiness By Erika Tamar
  • Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for the Young Child By Carol Mccloud
  • The Happiness Tree: Celebrating the Gifts of Trees We Treasure By Andrea Alban Gosline
  • The Treasure of Health and Happiness By Carol Goodrow
  • Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupery
  • Teaching your Children Joy by Lynda Eyre