Fleeting Joy

Tis the most visual of joys. How does it manifest itself? Silliness, laughter, “happy” feelings, goofy actions, giant smiles… Not to say that these traits aren’t present in other types of joy, but when tied to other types, they tend to be much longer lasting. By definition, fleeting joy is temporary; it doesn’t run as deeply.

Explore something with me. When asking many people to define joy, the fleeting kind is often the first answer to come to mind. Why? Because it’s easier to understand? Easier to describe? Maybe. But my gut tells me there’s more to it than that.

How does culture define joy? America seeks therapy in fleeting things: shopping, alcohol, food, escapism, drugs, sex, success, money… I’m not here to give a sermon on how empty that can be. We’ve all heard that before, and we all have this truth planted in our heart of hearts (whether we acknowledge it or not). But somewhere along the line, we have begun equating rooted joy with this momentary happiness.

Some assume that if they aren’t regularly feeling fleeting joy, then they are unhappy people. Their instinctual response? Run harder after fleeting joy to cure all woes. Sure, the short-term, immediate “high” pushes the pause button on despair, but if the happy feeling isn’t tied to another form of joy, depression inevitably follows.

For introspective individuals, this up and down cycle leads to self evaluation. Following that comes the conclusion that joy is actually a fake kind of happy. Here’s the really twisted part: sometimes it feels like the world expects this of us. The world wants us to be happy, not caring if it’s fake. There are stories and T-shirts and blogs like mine out there saying we should “choose” joy.

Danger. Red flag. This is why in previous posts, I’ve attempted to explore the importance of defining the difference between fleeting feelings (happiness) and intentional perspectives/states of being (aspiring joy).

With this in mind, here’s a question: Is fleeting joy really joy at all? My answer: it’s complicated. But at the end of the day, I say yes. Here are some examples of how I’ve experienced fleeting joy in the last few weeks. I’m not sharing these to gloat but instead to explain my affirmative answer to this inquiry.

1. My husband and I bought a car. It’s blue. It’s beautiful. It’s fun to drive. We got a great deal. There are technological upgrades from our last vehicle.

2. We went to Florida for spring break. Ocean and sunshine and gelato and friends and rest and no work and no laundry! We desperately needed the break.

3. I got a promotion. How abashed I felt being showered with congrats from coworkers, and how honored I am that my boss and company see fit to recognize my work!

I gotta tell you–I was extremely jazzed about all three of these events. However, I also have to acknowledge that time will eventually make my car not new, make me long for another vacation, and bring the monotony of work routine back. With that in mind, here’s why I still equate fleeting happiness as joy: it feeds my deeper joys. It sparks gratitude–feelings of belonging and appreciation for the life and blessings I have–desires to give back such joy to others.

I’m getting ahead of myself and will explore these other joy states in future weeks. Instead, to tie up today’s exploration, I want to share three challenges I’ve encountered around fleeting joy.

MY FIRST CHALLENGE: If you see someone who is not displaying (or who rarely displays) what we have defined as fleeting joy, be careful assuming that they are not a joyful person. He might, in fact, be more in tune with and focused on seeking rooted joy–even more so than someone who laughs all the time. She might, instead, be grieving an unfathomable loss and attempting to cultivate a rooted joy that appears more painful than happy on the surface.

MY SECOND CHALLENGE: Do not shy away from sharing your joy with these individuals. They might actually appreciate or need it more than many. However, be aware of what kind of encouraging joy you try to send their way. Be thoughtful. Comments and sentiments that are fleeting could very well seem trite to the rooted or hurtful to the grieving.

MY THIRD CHALLENGE (a great struggle of mine): Be aware of the joy you are yearning for, and ignore any messages that you “should be” happy. Feel your feelings. Process them. And if you’re ready or you want to, allow yourself to choose running after a joy that is not so fleeting.

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