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Join Us For Some Joy and Happiness Today?

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian.

John and I celebrate two anniversaries – November 16 and December 15th (because of complications around being in the military in Germany). This morning we were reflecting on our 50th and making plans for the day.  Our original idea had been to go to Israel, but you know what happened there.

John wants to start the day with a ruck up the mountain.  I want to do something creative. As we were going over our thoughts, we started talking about how much joy we have gotten recently by giving stuff away, cleaning things out.  This is a more unusual approach to joy for me, but John positively glows when he tidies up. We both got a big jolt of joy when we decided to gather up several bags of clothes and take them to Goodwill.

We will get together for a walk later in the day.  We’ll stroll along the river, taking in the lovely scenery we have not viewed for a while. Then we will hop over to a restaurant serving European food, a place we haven’t been to for many years. 

As I reflected on our simple plans, I felt happy.  Then I started thinking about the difference between joy and happiness…and how we might intentionally bring more of both into our lives.

Joy has not been studied as much as happiness in the last couple of decades.  Though it may be argued against by some, I subscribe to the idea that joy is an intense form of happiness.  What nudges joy in us can be different, but there are some general guidelines. Before I go there, however, it might be useful to consider what archetypes we seem to inhabit when it comes to approaching happiness. But very first step is to think about happiness in general.

We all want to be happy, we get it that it’s essential for life, that it is good for us. Happy people tend to experience low levels of fear, anger, and depression. They are likely to be healthier; have positive, fulfilling, high-quality social relationships; and be motivated to pursue long-term goals despite short-term costs. While authentic long-term happiness reflects a balance between present and future enjoyment, people often seek happiness in detrimental ways. (I’m stealing this information largely from the Elaine Houston and Positive Psychology.)


The four archetypes of happiness describe how individuals approach happiness. These archetypes are 1) The Hedonist, 2) The Rat Racer, 3) The Nihilist, and 4) The Happy Person.


The Hedonists prioritize short-term enjoyment over long-term fulfillment and will try

to maximize in-the-moment pleasure while minimizing pain. Conversely, Rat Racers

will sacrifice current pleasure, delay gratification, and hyper-focus on future goals at the

expense of present enjoyment.


The Nihilists believe their life has no purpose or meaning and has little hope for present

or future happiness. Individuals who fall into this archetype tend to feel disconnected

and lack a sense of control, direction, and motivation.


The Happy Person is the ideal archetype. Individuals in this category understand that present actions can provide in-the-moment pleasure and lay the foundation for a happy future.


While people are likely to experience and move between these four archetypes to varying degrees, spending excessive time in the Hedonist, Rat Racer, or Nihilist categories can be detrimental to happiness.


The first step to getting happier is to figure out which archetype we generally hang out in. Then we can take steps to move ourselves around.


If you largely fall into the Hedonist archetype and want to be happier, you can:

■ Practice moderation by setting limits and considering the future consequences of your actions.

■ Take some time to identify meaningful, long-term goals that offer a sense of purpose and direction.

■ Rather than seeking immediate external rewards or pleasures, pursue activities that align with your values and foster a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, like volunteering or engaging in hobbies that provide a sense of purpose.


If you largely fall into the Rat Racer archetype and want to be happier, you can:

■ Prioritize self-care and schedule time for relaxation, hobbies, and interests.

■ Set boundaries and prioritize your responsibilities.

■ Make time for personal relationships and build positive connections with other people.

■ Practice mindfulness and appreciation for the present moment.


If you fall largely into the Nihilist archetype and want to be happier, you can:

■ Schedule quality time with people you care about.

■ Make an effort to build new strong, positive connections with others

■ Identify activities that you enjoy (or think you would enjoy) and commit to doing more of them.

■ Set meaningful, achievable goals for the future.

■ Think about what you are thankful for and keep a gratitude journal.

■ Pay attention to negative thoughts and try to change your perspective by looking for the positives.


If you largely fall into the Happy Person archetype, you can continue to:

■ Evaluate and adjust the balance between present-moment enjoyment and long-term fulfillment.

■ Engage in activities that promote well-being and maintain a positive mindset.

■ Maintain positive relationships and stay connected with others.

■ Continue to set meaningful goals for the future.


John and I can do all of these, but I am thinking we both spend a bit too much time in the rat racer category (I'm betting many of us do). Even after being retired! We'll do something about that today. Jump over into the hedonist archetype a little more. Keep our eyes on the Happy Person archetype - notice that balance.

On to JOY.  What gives us jolts of joy.  Well, in general things like doing an act of kindness – buying the groceries of the person in front of us, giving something to someone.  Tidying up our spaces – cleaning out a nook or cranny.  Novelty – connecting with new people, exploring new places new experiences. Creativity – crafts, writing, painting just making things for pleasure. Getting out in nature – disconnecting from too much stimuli. Seems like all those things were rolling around for John and me this morning.

To maximize our joy we can learn to savor how it feels.  Stop and really take in the good feeling.

John and I will be on a joy journey today.  We found out early on that happy marriages require effort (We have had tough times and issues to work through - kept learning and working together). Same for happiness and joy in general - it takes intention and practice. Fortunately, we are starting off well today.  John is out the door, already on his ruck, and I’m writing to you…and I am smiling, savoring the good feeling.  Thank you for sharing the journey with us.

How might we journey together to the good life by understanding more about happiness and joy and taking intentional steps toward bringing them into our lives?

(Some follow ups. 1. More ways to get jolts of joy. 2. A joyful story from Father Richard Rohr’s meditations yesterday written by Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal … I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,” said the flight service person.

“Talk to her.… We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment.… I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother … and would ride next to her.… She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought … why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling.

There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free beverages … and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.)




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