A friend, who was being treated for cancer, said to me one day, “I am so tired of people coming up to me with their sad, depressed voices and attitudes, thinking they are consoling me.” She said she had told them to stay away from her if they could not be upbeat! I laughed so hard when I heard her say this, and I agreed with her fully. I visited her at the hospital the day she was scheduled to have surgery. She was surrounded by a team of surgeons and staff not minutes before she was to enter the operating room. She hadn’t expected me there, but she beamed upon seeing me and, from her hospital bed, hugged me warmly. We both laughed and said, “See you soon!” It all turned out well for her, but if it hadn’t, I would like to think that joy would have been the last thing she experienced, not sadness, nor suffering, nor depression, and that was the point of my visit.
There are many ways to look at success in life, from financial wealth, to accolades of every kind, or simply providing for our families. The reality, however, is that whether you are sitting in a prison cell or lying on the deck of a yacht, the quality of the life you live has nothing to do with either. Rich, powerful, brilliant, or a pauper, we all experience the same emotions. The reasons and circumstances that evoke the emotions may be drastically different, yet we can feel the same. This is the common thread across human existence, from Calcutta to Dubai. Our emotional condition can dictate how we are in any given moment, and no amount of wealth, power, or stardom can prevent it.
If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would recognize that any quest for success is a quest for joy. Why else are we doing it? The end result we are looking for from any of our actions is to be more joyful. Look closely at all the endeavors of your life you have chosen: school, work, art, science, entertainment, or even crime, it is all to reach that feeling of joyfulness. But we have tied success to joy, and so the success is never fulfilling enough. Once we reach where we wanted to be, where do we go from there? Don’t we look for something else to fulfill the need for joy in our lives?
Joy is not in anything out there; it’s not in the success, or what you gained from the success. Joy is in only one place, the only place it can be, and that place is within. We experience joy because it is happening in us, and if it is happening in us then we are the ones creating it. Just like any emotion we experience, they all happen within us. We are the ones who bring about the feelings we have. Yes, we react to so much that happens out there, but still, we are the ones producing the feeling. If we are sad about something that happened, we have created that feeling. We choose to feel the way we do, and that is a responsibility we find hard to accept. We would rather blame another or a circumstance for how we are, yet we are the ones acting the way we do. Joy is something that happens from the inside out, in any situation. If it starts inside, then we can be joyful anytime we want to be.
Emotions do play a role in guiding our lives. They are part of the fabric of our human experience. Emotions should only be used as a guide, however, and not a way to go through life. Emotions are by nature transient, unless we hold onto them. The joy I am referring to is not an emotion—it is the source, the wellspring of life. We experience joy at the pinnacle of wonderful experiences because it wells up from a source within. Think about the moments in our lives that we are truly joyful. We will see that joy is triggered in us due to an event that has affected us deeply. Happiness can come while watching a silly movie or hearing a joke. Joy comes when we are enlightened by an experience. It is inherent in our beings to be joyful, despite what the world around us might say, and we know from our own joyful experiences that it is when we are at our best.
A joyful person is the most alive person you will meet. That person might have a body riddled with a disease, or be serving a sentence in a prison, yet they can be fully alive, because being fully alive has nothing to do with how our bodies feel or where we might be, but how we are. As we get older our bodies may not be as energetic as they once were, but what does that have to do with how alive we feel? We may go through traumatic events, psychologically challenging times, and we can let ourselves succumb to those thoughts and experiences as we might do our aging bodies—or we can choose to live joyfully despite the challenges. We have the power to make that choice anytime we desire. It is just that we haven’t been shown how to bring it forth. It may seem impossible to be joyful in a world that seems so harsh and contentious, yet if we see that we can affect the world instead of the world affecting us, maybe the tides will change.
A joyful moment, like the one I shared with my friend at the hospital—even though she was about to have a significant surgery—is more beautiful than anything money can buy, power can bring, or accolades can bestow. The effect is life-giving in its simplicity, and as enduring as the universe. You may think I am overstating the effectiveness of being joyful, but I don’t think I can overstate it. We live most of our lives being affected by people and circumstances and it can break us down. I think it is time that we decide how we want to be and affect our lives and others’ lives, by living joyfully.