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“There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away” (Henry Ward Beecher).
IF WE ARE LESS THAN JOYFUL, THE PROBLEM IS NOT THAT JOY IS UNAVAILABLE TO US; IT IS THAT WE DO NOT CHOOSE TO RECEIVE IT. As Beecher suggests, there are many “joys which long to be ours.” Like birds on our roof, they “sit and sing awhile . . . and then fly away.” Joyfulness courts us, but it can’t gain admittance to our hearts if we keep them closed — or if we’re just too busy to be bothered.
Have you ever thought of joyfulness as a virtue or a character trait to be acquired? Many people think of it otherwise: they look upon joy simply as a gift granted to the fortunate few, those who are blessed with lucky lives. But on deeper reflection, what we see is that joyfulness is a learned attribute. It is the possession of those who, regardless of circumstances, have learned to think in such a way that joy has a chance to enter their hearts. If we are not joyful, that makes more of a comment on us than it does on our circumstances.
As important as it is, however, we defeat ourselves if we try to track down joyfulness and capture it, as if it were a quarry to be hunted for its own sake. “Enjoyment is not a goal,” wrote Paul Goodman, “it is a feeling that accompanies important ongoing activity.” Like many other desirable things, joyfulness must be experienced indirectly. It is the by-product of paying attention to other, more important, things. We find joy while we’re looking for something else!
But ultimately, those who are joyful are those who choose to be so. Happiness (the experience of pleasant “happenings”) may or may not be ours at a given moment, but joy is a stronger and deeper quality. Happy or not, there is no excuse for failing to make joyfulness one of our personal attributes. And when we decide to practice the virtue of joyfulness, we find many other valuable qualities coming our way, such as courage and strength. Nehemiah made a wise statement to the people of Israel long ago when he said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Indeed, of all strengths, the strength of joy is the strongest.
“I cannot choose to be strong, but I can choose to be joyful. And when I am willing to do that, strength will follow” (Tim Hansel).