A Life Of Joy



I thought I knew joy when I first tried a pulled beef, black bean burrito in the isle of Cabo, Mexico. It was 2005 and I remember it perfectly; dripping with cheese, guac, a hefty load of salsa and wrapped in the fluffiest of cornbread. It was happiness at first bite. But then it was gone and I was left with a Mexican sadness. So it wasn’t really true joy, it was just a really, really great burrito. While it satisfied my hunger and introduced me to “pulled” meats (thank you hipsters), it did not leave me with any kind of lasting happiness.

Joy is a journey; it’s not a destination. Joy resembles its youngling happiness. Though it is not the same. It is deeper, richer, lovelier and transforming. Similar but not synonymous. I would like to suggest that joy is not experienced unless it is in relationship. How can it be?

“For even if we experience joy in solitude, we still need to have a decent relationship with our selves and our thinking to recognise and dwell in it.”

I’ll be honest with you, prior to writing this article my computer absolutely soiled itself. I have no legitimate technical skills, and unfortunately my innate messiness in real life somehow transfers itself onto any technology I touch. Have I spilt lemonade on my keypad? Yes. Have I woken up with a face full of QWERTY? Yes. Do I have ingrained rice from my said love of Mexican in my USB port? I’m not saying.

So this article is coming to you from my obscurely tidy husband’s laptop. Where his passwords all revolve around the theme of happiness (I’ll get him to change them later!). As I logged in, for the briefest of seconds, I wondered if it was a sign. Then I realised the pursuit of happiness is a constant in every human being’s life. We are all travailing and pushing and crossing our fingers while we wish for happiness. The most valuable place we look for it is in the realm of relationships. We have all heard these persistent gems:
“I just want to be happy.”
“I just want him to be happy.”
“He makes me so happy.”
“Look how happy they are.”
“They look so tired, they have kids now.”
Just joking about the last one. But seriously. On that note, “happy” is a kid’s word. J.D. Salinger suggested that “happy” comes from circumstance, whereas joy comes from within.

My husband makes me happy when he brings home some Tim Tams. We look happy when we are at the movies or on a hot date. I make my husband happy when I clean the shower thoroughly or alphabetise the cereal (I know … role reversal. Like I said, obscurely clean). He likes smooth shaved legs. I let him shave his legs. Joking again. But seriously he has to do it for football purposes. I think. All these things are fantastic. They make coupledom and marriage all the more sweet. They make us happy. Yet alone, these things, or my husband cannot make me a joyful person. A person who is not joyful cannot have an enjoyable life. Sorry to slap you in the face with what seems like a wet fish.

Hear me out though. Have you ever hopped in your car, drove to your destination, parked the car, taken the keys out of the ignition, grabbed your handbag and then realised you have no recollection of driving there. You just can’t specifically remember how you arrived. It’s called autopilot or Highway Hypnosis. It is real. The driver is completely familiar with the route and the vehicle that they are in. Boredom strikes or a more interesting thought takes flight and the driver is engrossed in their thoughts (or imagination) and their subconscious takes the wheel. Eeek! I do it every week.You could have driven past a hilarious pedestrian, missed a bubblegum-sunset, overlooked a field of flowers or totally neglected a super witty bumper sticker. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or fantastic or expressly right up your alley this drive was. You missed it. It is the same in everyday life. It is the same in relationships. We are responsible for being mindful and for driving the mind we have.

Your lover may shower you with compliments and kisses, and you miss it. Maybe you are thinking about how he doesn’t like your taste in music. Or maybe that date night went awry and your expectations were dashed—action movie instead of rom-com. Late instead of on-time. No time to do your makeup and you feel like Charlize Theron in Monster (not Snow White & the Huntsman). That is not your partner’s responsibility and circumstances are often outside of our control. Nonetheless we are in control of how we act and to a huge extent, how we think.

I love cooking. I love food shows. I can banter food all day long with anyone. When I was younger, my parents praised my cooking. It encouraged me. It made me love cooking for people. When I started dating my now-husband, I realised I loved the one guy on the planet that didn’t really have tastebuds. I would lovingly prepare him coq au vin, or a beautiful curry—dishes that would leave my friends completely stroking my ego and have me considering a different career. When I asked my husband what he thought, after 15 minutes of silent chewing, he would often say he didn’t really like it, or that the flavours were too strong or too fancy (gravy is fancy). Just recently he emphatically wished humans didn’t have tastebuds … then food could just be fuel … like a car. This specific relationship scenario may be different from what other’s face. From what you will face. The certain thing is that you will have these “scenarios”. How I responded to it is within my jurisdiction.

I can’t make my partner like restaurant-quality food, however I can choose to laugh at the situation. I can choose to try new restaurants with my foodie friends and cherish those moments with them. Like Bukowski I can serve my guy ham on rye and he is as happy as ever. Life is easier for me. Joy needs to be nurtured in our thinking. We need to be proactive about thinking about “good” things and turning our focus onto the stuff that works. I personally find it odd that most gals will have long-term success with friendships, but they will not have that same success (in terms of happiness, satisfaction and joy) with their husbands. Psychologist Victoria Costello attributes it to the relative importance we place on relationships. Alternatively said, the success of all the relationships in our lives depends directly on how we think about them, and what we do with them. We are the bottom line.

The bottom line of a joyful marriage is two joy-filled people. Just like life, just like joy, marriage is actually a journey not an end. You can look at the journey as an adventure, or you can look at it as a slow deathmatch. You can look at togetherness as a series of joyful growth seasons. Or you can choose to look at it as a series of hard scenarios. The best thing is we can actually choose.


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