Are you feeling happy? Is that even a relevant question these days? Here’s what I’ve been thinking:
Just two days before the election (the one that changed everything) I’d been reading a piece the New York Times Book Review about the proliferation of self-help books on happiness, in which the author wrote, “…there are probably not a lot of these books published in Somalia. Worrying about happiness is a luxury.”
When I read those words on Sunday morning, Nov. 6, a mug of organic fair-trade coffee in hand, and looking forward to assembling a pantsuit to wear to the polls two days later, I felt a little sorry for the author. Clearly she didn’t understand that joy and bliss are not just trending topics, but steady pulses at the center of each human soul, whether born in the United States, Somalia, or anywhere else.
I even thought of writing a letter to the editor, arguing that as the author Joy in Every Moment, a self-help book like those their reviewer had dismissed so easily, I strongly disagreed with her glib assessment of the genre.
But days later, gathering the week’s newspapers for recycling, my eye caught the lopsided smiley face that illustrated that article, and I had to wonder if the author was right, after all. In the grim aftermath of the election, joy felt like a luxury I could not afford, let alone locate.
Opening my Facebook feed now I was struck by the fact that for the first time, even in “The Happy Valley”, where I live, and where rainbow flags hang from storefronts and are even painted on our small city’s central crosswalk, my friends and colleagues were experiencing blatant harassment and bullying of women and people who were thought to be Muslim or immigrants, whether they were or not. I could offer a litany of examples, but I won’t because you are living in the same surreal dystopia these days that I am, and like mine, your social media feeds have likely been transformed from cheerfully chattering streams of hope and optimism, to stuttering flows of dread, resistance, and one depressing headline after another.
The difference, perhaps, is that I felt obligated to show up smiling, to prove that as my book claimed, there really is joy to be found in every moment. Even this one.
And yet I was going to sleep scared at night, and waking heartbroken in the morning. I remained quiet on social media, as I could think of nothing encouraging to say. Which reminded me of the time in my life that launched me into this whole joy business to begin with.
I often tell people who attend my talks and workshops that I did not come by my belief in joy easily. I could reel off a laundry list of legitimate losses and deep wounds that give me every right to be bitter and angry, depressed and despondent. But I learned during the darkest days of my personal depression, that there were choices I could make, even if my only choice left was whether to pick love or fear. Along the way I found healing in gratitude, forgiveness, surrender, and a dedicated practice of meditation and prayer, and a determined routine of self-care and self-love. Between the sunny yellow and pink covers of my book about joy, I write that it is when we face—and courageously feel—the darkest emotions, that we find the diamond glittering at the bottom of the mine.
My studies since then have confirmed what I experienced on my own. Scriptures from various faith traditions affirm that out of grief, happiness and joy are born, and that bliss is at the center of our being. Even the Declaration of Independence includes the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right.
Joy, it turns out, is anything but a luxury. It is not only for the affluent yoga-mat-toting denizens of retreat centers and health clubs, nor is it only for those who live in relative ease and freedom.
(Okay, so you knew from the start where I was going with all of this—that in the end I would reassure you that, of course, joy is not a luxury. But honestly, I haven’t always been sure during these past months that I could find my way back to this belief. I have needed to keep reminding myself that joy is still relevant—which is why I wrote this—to remind you—to remind us. So, please bear with me for just a little longer.)
The storm of mad bigotry and greed is thundering around us. And so we need to continue to take action and take to the streets like never before. But we need, too, the beauty of the silent sliver of the silver moon. And the miraculous scent of lemon. And we need to know that joy is a solid fact, lodged like the pit inside a perfect peach. It’s at the core of who we are. It’s our right as promised by our faith traditions and by our founding fathers.
And so I stand by this right, too, for all who care to claim it: The right to enjoy the taste of fairly traded coffee brewed in a sunny kitchen on a Sunday morning in the Happy Valley. Or to dance in the glow of the orange sunset in a village, somewhere in Somalia even.
Go ahead, smile. It’s okay to be happy,
In case you need a little boost of Joy, I wanted to offer you a free week of Waking It Up. This week-long series of emails is inspired by my book, Joy in Every Moment. To receive yours, simply click here (or click the button below) and receive a bit of daily inspiration in your inbox for one week. Each email will contain a suggested intention for the day, as well as an awesome quote, and some ideas for how to focus your attention.
Tell me, how are you faring? Are you able to access your Joy? What is working for you? Together we’ll get through this. Where are you finding laughter, music, and beauty? Remember: Happiness is the best revenge.
NOTE: I originally wrote this blog post back in December. In those early post 11/9 days and weeks, each time I opened up a new email document I felt a stutter in my throat as I looked down to the signature line that’s automatically generated at the bottom of my screen: My name, and the words, “Author of Joy in Every Moment,” just above a bright yellow and pink image of the cover of my most recent book, 220 pages of bright prose, and cheerful tips about finding relaxation, happiness, and bliss all day long. In response, I wrote this short essay as a “Tiny Letter” that I sent to a small group of friends. But a couple of months later, it still feels relevant. So I’m sharing it here with you.
 Newman, Judith, How to and Self-Help, The New York Times, Nov. 6, 2016 p. BR31