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The Choice of Joy

Joy: The feeling you get from hanging out with friends; the emotion you feel when baking cookies (and then eating them); the reaction you have from beholding the beauty of a forest. I name these few examples to help you recall a time when you have experienced joy. Before you continue, please call to mind at least one joyful experience. Try to isolate that emotion. Do you realize that joy is not a fleeting sensation that leaves you emptier than before, but rather it is one that fills you and sustains you? Would it not be great to feel that way all the time?

I ask you to consider that living in joy is a choice you can make, regardless of the situation around you.

Let us begin with a more explicit definition of joy. According to Oxford Languages, joy is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” While this definition captures a surface-level understanding of joy, it fails to be very precise. I would argue that joy results from performing actions that are in line with our human purpose.

Let me clarify a few things. I am working from a Catholic understanding of the world, which holds a belief in God, who is love. Therefore, when I say human purpose, I am referring to the fact that man was created “to serve and love God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 358). Because of this, one’s purpose in life is not the product of one’s own imagination. The way someone lives to achieve this purpose may be, but the reason remains unchanged. While I am sure that other religions bear the same truths, although expressed in different verbiage, I am unwilling to speak on them because I am afraid to misrepresent them for want of understanding.

One can stumble upon joy in many ways. Some of the most common are creation, friendship, and admiration of beauty. When you create, whether it be through music, visual art, or any other medium, you probably derive joy from such an action. In addition, you can find joy in the relationships you build and the friendships you nurture. Beholding the beauty around you, whether in music, nature, or another person, can also bring joy. Further inspection of these examples will better explain the argument that joy comes from acting in accordance with our purpose of serving and loving God.

Creation brings joy because by creating, you are using your God-given gifts to make something new. Doing so fulfills the purpose of the gifts: to give glory back to God.

Relationships bring joy because we are made for relationships (Gen 2:18), so participating in them is in line with our nature. Admiring beauty around you requires a position of gratitude toward the creator of that beauty, who ultimately is God. Therefore, being thankful for beauty expresses love for God.

Now that we have seen what brings joy, we can consciously choose it.

The easy answer of how to choose joy would be to go out, decide to utilize all your talents, make a bunch of friends, and come home happy. But this is not very realistic, is it? Let me instead offer you a more practical way, beginning with an example.

In the morning many moons ago, I was walking through campus up by the MRDC on my way to the CULC. I looked down and saw the sunlight glittering on the sidewalk, reflecting off the tiny crystals embedded in the cement. As I was beholding this loveliness, the thought occurred to me that I was walking on stars, and I smiled to myself. I chose to have this thought, admire this beauty, and feel this joy. I could easily have allowed myself to be consumed by thoughts of schoolwork and the stress of the day to come, but instead, I decided to look outside myself and see beauty around me.

The choice of joy can further be illustrated by examining the importance of one’s disposition when asking a question. Much information can be gleaned by the simple way you ask a question. For example, the question “Why am I suffering?” reveals that you believe suffering itself is bad, that the suffering is happening to you unjustly and without cause, and that it should be taken away. This mindset reveals a lack of trust in God’s plan, which makes finding joy nearly impossible. On the other hand, the question “What good can come from my suffering?”, while asking basically the same thing, has very different implications. This form acknowledges not only that you are suffering but also that your suffering is not necessarily bad. Instead of turning completely toward negative thoughts and despair, your mind is seeing that good can come from the midst of suffering. This mindset reveals trust in God, who is love, and therefore opens the possibility of bringing joy.

I am not saying this choice is easy to put into practice. However, when I am joyful, I am happy to be alive. I believe choosing joy will lead me to a more fulfilling life and allow me to love the life I am living. In truth, to constantly bear in mind these ideas is not an easy task, but I believe the struggle is worth the reward. I hope you see the merit in this choice and decide to do the same. //

Daniel Buckley


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