When I began my Sabbath experiment in 2013, I recognized the connection to gratitude, joy, and happiness early on. In the first week of the experiment, I discussed the interplay between gratitude and letting go. On Week 1, Day 2, I wrote:
Who is the happiest person you know? This is someone whose happiness extends beyond the everyday smile. This is someone who erupts not just with happiness, but joy. To walk around with that kind of happiness says something about their ability to not only recognize the things they are thankful for, but share those things with others. It also says something about their ability to let go of their need to control or justify everything. Instead, they see things for what they are and choose to celebrate the beauty they find.
In this short paragraph, I was doing my best to describe the difference between joy and happiness. Joy is a topic I have always been interested in, so imagine my delight when I took the time to listen to an interview with one of my favorite thinkers, Dr. Miroslov Volf, a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, titled How Joy is Necessary for the Good Life. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to the interview yourself because it is packed full of good stuff.
Not only did this interview connect with my ponderings on joy, happiness, and gratitude; but it also ended with thoughts on Sabbath. My fellow experimenters, we are on the right track. Let’s continue our life experiment, journey the winding road, and pay attention to each holy moment.
If you don’t have the time to listen the interview now, here are some of my notes. Consider the plain text as paraphrase or a direct quote from Dr. Volf. My thoughts will be italicized.
Joy is emotion that involves judgement about an occurring state of affairs that is deemed good. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Gen.1:31). What objects are worthy of joy? What needs to be there for joy to be present?
Don’t get hung up on terms, Don’t get hung up on “Is this Sabbath?” Or, “Is this Mission?” but focus on the substance. How has God made this holy?
When we say things like, “the Good life” or, “the flourishing life” or, “the life worth living,” we mean: 1) Life is going well (circumstantial). 2) Life is led well (agential/activated). 3) I feel all is well (affective). These three contain an inseparable unity, written about in the Bible as love (agent: when we love our neighbor), peace (circumstantial: when all is well), and joy (affect: how we feel, how we are affected). Joy is the crown. Joy is a grace in our life. It’s like the cherry on top of every good thing.
Consider the Parable of the Talents. While this is one of the more disturbing parables in full, think about the phrase, “enter into joy of your master.” In this parable, joy is not just the individual feeling of the servant or master. It is a shared/communal state into which one can enter. A social state of joy. The Hebrew Bible is especially focused on this communal rejoicing. While happiness is often fixated on the individual state, joy connects us to each other and all of creation! Joy is best shared!
Joy is dependent on how we manage our expectations. We manage our expectations through flexibility, openness, and how true we are to self. joy is about what is happening and what is promised to happen. It is not necessarily a “happy” feeling but one that is full of meaning.
Sabbath is the absence of striving. It is a time and space to rejoice over the good that is here. The holy rest of God comes immediately after proclaiming the goodness of creation (Gen. 1:31). Stop striving for unreality, stop striving for those unattainable expectations. Open to the beautiful reality that surrounds you. Rest with God.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)
Where do you see joy today? How have you experienced joy in you life? What is your favorite memory of joy?