“Things we’ve wanted
When we get them are never enough
Never what they seem but they lead us to the road”
~ Sam Phillips
And the irony is that getting what we want or think we need almost never makes us happy. Most importantly, it doesn’t lead to joy.
As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, joy has nothing to do with achieving our goals. Joy has nothing to do with pleasure (or money or status or #winning).
Think about it. When was the last time you experienced actual joy because you completed a big project, crossed the finish line, or had a mind-blowing orgasm? Wait, nevermind, forget that last one. I’m pretty sure that counts as actual joy.
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” ~ W. B. Yeats
Some of my most vivid experiences of joy happen when I am doing something for someone else. Or when I let go of a worry or a grudge or a perceived injury that I had been carrying for god knows how long.
Joy also happens anytime we can let go of control. Vacations work best when you can absolutely leave your cares behind. When you disconnect from the persistent reality of the virtual world and go somewhere out of cell phone reach.
We know all of this, but we are a society of amnesiacs. And so we keep creating monsters to chase, dragons to slay, bad guys to capture, windmills to tilt.
“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.
~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
If there is an enemy, it is fear of losing control.
The thing is, the more we let go of, the better off we are.
We waste so much energy on all these things we see that need to be fixed, the to do list that never ends, the injustices that must be righted, the countless arms that beg to be wrestled, the arguments that have to be won…
But these are all just our own brand of windmills, hulking giants we trick ourselves into believing we must joust, despite the voices of others who tell us they are simply tricks of the brain.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~ Lao Tzu
These endless lists of things we are forever updating, these imaginary enemies we drag around with us, these pieces of identity we hold on to for so long we forget they are there. These are the things that keep us from ourselves.
We walk around the store filling our carts, our hands, our pockets with all the things we don’t want. Meanwhile we starve to death.
Joy is letting go. Joy is keeping the cart empty enough for the things we really want.
*a version of this piece originally appeared at Rebelle Society.