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Let Joy Be Unconfined

Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 07:09AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

We all want to be happy. We are not even sure what happiness exactly is. Still, we know we want it. It’s not so much that looking for happiness is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s more like staring at the haystack without really knowing what you’re looking for.

I walked into a men’s clothing store at Atlantic Station in Atlanta. The salesperson asked if I was looking for something specific. I said, “Nope, but I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s how we approach happiness. We go to the places we think it should be, and start browsing. Places like relationships, careers, religions, hobbies and houses. We date; we climb the corporate ladder; we go to church; we play virtual games or actual golf; we hunt, fish or shop. We buy homes and cars and clothes. Or we go to the darker places of substance abuse and addictions.

We think we’ll know it when we see it. And when we do, by blind luck, stumble on some external source of happiness, we spend huge amounts of time, effort and money to replicate and perpetuate the feeling. But we are substituting temporary bliss for deep joy.

The words “happiness” and “happening” have a common root word: Hap. And so, the logic goes: Happiness is derived from what’s happening around you - from external factors. Joy, on the other hand, comes from within and cannot be as easily effected by circumstances.

Wayne Dyer talked about the outer candle flame and the inner candle flame. Happiness, the outer flame, is exposed to the elements and can be blown out by negative winds (like, say, a great recession). Joy, the internal flame, is protected from the elements and burns regardless of circumstances.

How these words (joy and happiness) are defined is mere semantics, but differentiating between fragile and durable positive feelings is important. And the realization, oft preached, seldom internalized, that true, durable, lasting contentment comes from within, is even more important.

Since Major League Baseball begins spring training this week, let’s use a baseball analogy. When a sharply-hit line drive is covering 168 feet per second; and a major-league short stop is only 100 feet from the bat that just compressed it, he doesn’t think. He reacts. His 10,000+ hours of practice and game-play tell his body what to do.

Life’s external stuff comes at us like a sharply-hit ball. And we don’t have time to think. We just have the same desperate reaction over and over, reflexively grasping for happiness, expecting, but never getting, better results.

The reflex sounds like this: “If I had more money, more free time, better-behaved kids, a more loving spouse, a healthier body, a nicer boss, less traffic, then I would be happy.”

Yes, you would. But you’ve got it backwards. “A person who is not thankful for what he now has is not likely to be thankful for whatever he may one day obtain.” -Frank Clark

Money can’t buy happiness. The stories of miserable wealthy folks are legion. Well, yes, it can, actually. Money can, without a doubt, buy a temporary state of increased pleasure. There is a reason we humans become addicted to substances, behaviors, and material stuff. They bring us real happiness, shallow, fleeting and ever-diminishing, but, nonetheless, real. Money can buy temporary happiness. Money cannot buy enduring joy.

Mark Twain said, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing.” Not a living or a life. We’re here by the grace of God, for purposes far beyond our human understanding.

In 1802, William Paley formulated a view of God as a watchmaker. Paley postulated that God created this fantastically intricate and beautiful physical reality, set it in motion, then never gave it another thought. I vehemently disagree with the concept of a detached and disinterested God, but the analogy of a watch has merit. A watch works because its myriad of tiny mechanisms fit together in a precise way.

We do not know how God’s myriad of tiny, life-making mechanisms works. And we cannot know. But we need not understand divine eternal justice to understand there are natural laws, unseen. And living within these laws benefits us.

When deep, real joy is at our core, our tiny cogs fit into God’s mechanism and the good external stuff follows. I’m not saying you’ll have every earthly thing you dream of (I’m not saying you won’t). But real joy transcends despair and exceeds happiness.

Each individual should be the only human in charge of his or her life, but we are rank amateur life-makers. No human has the qualifications to create and maintain a great life. We are all incompetent hacks.

“Pause for a moment, you retched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.”  -Saint Benedict

Our only chance at consistently catching the line drives is subjugating our egos to the watchmaker – the life-maker - who is not disinterested or detached, but accessible and engaged in the affairs of man.   

“Let joy be unconfined.” -Lord Byron 


Thank you for reading this article. If you found it enjoyable, enlightening, edifying, useful…please recommend it to your friends, family, co-workers, customers, vendors…And please check out other Point28 articles below. Thank You! –Lon 

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