on joy, happiness and pleasure

One from the archives: Alex at Discovery Green, July 2009.  Photographed with Nikon D300, 70-200mm lens.

This past Wednesday, I attended the Champions of Literacy Series dinner, hosted by Literacy Advance of Houston, and honouring author Dwight Edwards.  Dwight's new book, A Tale of Three Ships, is published by the same publisher as my upcoming book, and so I was invited to attend.  It was a lovely evening, for a great cause:  Literacy Advance of Houston is an organization that helps functionally illiterate adults learn how to read English. But the best part was Dwight's keynote -- his speech was filled with lovely tidbits that I wholeheartedly believe, and so, if you'll permit me, I thought I'd share them with you here.

He opened his speech by telling an anecdote about Alex Haley, the author of the bestseller Roots.  Apparently, Haley used to have this photograph of a turtle sitting on top of a fence post prominently displayed in his office.  Occasionally, people would ask what was up with the photograph, and Haley would reply, "Well, think about it:  every time you see a turtle on the top of a fence post, you know he had help getting there."  Dwight then thanked the crowd for his award, saying that he never felt more like that turtle.

He began speaking about Joy, which is the primary subject of his book.  He said that Joy shouldn't be confused with Happiness and Pleasure -- in fact, he said, Joy's closest competitors are Happiness and Pleasure.  He went on to explain:

Happiness is a favourable condition caused by an outside circumstance.   You feel Happy when something good happens to you.

Pleasure, he said, is really more of a fulfillment of a corporal desire.  You derive Pleasure from things like a good glass of wine, for example.  Or a delicious rich chocolate.

But Joy, he said, Joy was something entirely different.  He described it as something that can only be understood by experience.  Joy, he believes, is deeper, stronger and cleaner than either Happiness or Pleasure.  He believes true Joy is something which finds us; we don't find Joy.

Nonetheless, he said, there were two ways to make it easier for Joy to find us:

1.  To be joyful, we need to do what we were meant to do.  He describes this as fulfilling the "extraordinary dream."  He believes we were each hardwired to do something in a way that no one else can do it, and that "when we find it, it will absolutely light us up."  He stressed that this didn't necessarily mean that we should all make a living doing this; however, we should definitely carve time to do it as often as possible. 

And the second way:

2.  In referencing Alex Haley's photograph, he believes that there is a unique joy in helping fellow human beings move up the fence post. We are joyful when we can help others succeed.

And finally, one of my favourite parts of his speech:  "Whoever said 'money can't buy happiness' was broke.  Of course it can buy Happiness.  What it can't buy, is Joy."

I hope you have a Joy-full weekend, everyone.

SongSong of the heart by Prince (from the Happy Feet soundtrack)