Choose joy

I’ve been feeling a little down recently, for various reasons. This is what Buddhists call suffering, and they say it is caused by desire, or passion. Desire is what binds us to this life, they say, and is the cause of our suffering. Christians have a similar world view. They say that sin is the root cause of our suffering, and that our redemption is through Jesus Christ.

While there are many differences between Christians (who believe in an eternal soul), and Buddhists (who supposedly do not – although people like the Dalai Lama certainly seem to), religions generally regard the physical world as a place where humans are trapped. It’s easy then to imagine that we were born to suffer.

If we reject such notions, we can regard the physical universe not as a cage, but as a vehicle that enables life and consciousness. It’s not a cage, but a playground we are free to explore. Suffering exists, and may even be inevitable, but it isn’t the whole story. It doesn’t even have to be the main act. Instead of suffering, choose joy.

In everyone’s life there is joy and suffering. But we can choose which to focus our attention on. We can choose whether to be happy or sad. Recently, there have been things in my life that have made me sad. But equally, there have been sources of joy. I choose to focus on the joy.

Some of the desires that Buddhists warn us about can be self-destructive. And some of the actions Christians call sin are also harmful. But there is nothing intrinsically wrong with desire, or passion. In fact, it’s what gives life its meaning.

Avoid selfish desires and sinful behaviour by all means. But don’t feel that you are trapped in a materialistic world and bound by desires and sins. Instead, choose joy.

One thing I have learned is that the path to happiness is through action, not inaction. There may be failure. There may even be suffering. But that is all part of the dance.

To say that life is suffering and that desire is its cause, is to focus entirely on negatives. Why not say that to live is to desire, to have passion, and that desire and passion bring joy? Aren’t both statements equally true?

Here’s the thing. I’ve tasted suffering. I know that there’s more to come. Lots more. What I absolutely cannot live with is regret – regret that I didn’t follow my dreams, that I didn’t take the risks, that I didn’t stand up for what I felt was right.

I am not afraid of suffering. My life is not grey. It is not a straight line. It has light and dark; bumps and spills. I like it that way. It reminds me that I am alive.

I would rather have the chance of success, than the certainty of not trying. So I’ll take the risks. I’ll continue to follow my desires and my passions. I’ll know joy, and suffering too. And I won’t regret either.

19 responses to “Choose joy

  1. I am sorry to hear that you have felt a bit down of late Steve, and feel certain it will prove only a temporary state, as you know it will too I am equally sure. You are sounding sanguine in any case.

    The concept of ‘Dukkha’ in Orthodox Buddhism is generally rendered in Westernised shorthand as ‘suffering’, although that fails to grasp the term’s inherent meaning, which is far subtler and broader. For example, here is an extract from:

    “No single English word adequately captures the full depth, range, and subtlety of the crucial Pali term ‘dukkha’. Over the years, many translations of the word have been used (“stress,” “unsatisfactoriness,” “suffering,” etc.). Each has its own merits in a given context. There is value in not letting oneself get too comfortable with any one particular translation of the word, since the entire thrust of Buddhist practice is the broadening and deepening of one’s understanding of dukkha until its roots are finally exposed and eradicated once and for all. One helpful rule of thumb: as soon as you think you’ve found the single best translation for the word, think again: for no matter how you describe dukkha, it’s always deeper, subtler, and more unsatisfactory than that.”

    According to Orthodox Buddhist doctrine, Dukkha also obtains in pleasurable states, in happiness and so forth; this is because all states are transient, subject to ending, conditional, not self-sustaining, and are therefore inherently unsatisfactory as they cannot provide lasting satisfaction. It is actually a very subtle concept, and hard to see into the depths of it.

    May you be well and happy Steve. 🙂

    • Thanks for your concern, Hariod. I am already over my problems. As previously discussed, I chose joy 🙂
      Thank you also for your clarification and explanation of Buddhism. I am not very good at understanding Buddhism. I have never read an explanation I can really get my head around. I have exactly the same problem with double-entry book-keeping 🙂
      May you also be well and happy.

  2. ‘The certainty of not trying’ is a good phrase. Risk of failure keeps us from achieving so many positive outcomes.

    Peace to you.

  3. Tough one. You see somebody down-and-out and you want to cheer them up, but know from experience that sometimes people need “down” time for their natural biorhythms to work themselves out. The problem is that down time can be habit forming. That’s why, biorhythms aside, you still need to deliberately choose joy over sadness as a throughline. Thus at the keyboard I sit, hoping and believing that your policy of choosing joy, while accepting the fact of down time, is the best path back to the witty, compassionate, genius state we all know and love!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Gary. I learned as a teenager that happiness is a choice we must make for ourselves. Sadly, others cannot make that choice for us. Don’t worry about me, as I have already made the right choice. This blog post was the third and final instalment of an introspective three-part mini-series. Normal blogging service will be resumed shortly 🙂

  4. “I would rather have the chance of success, than the certainty of not trying.”
    Well said Steve, and something I particularly needed to read this weekend.

  5. So much yes to this post! Thank you for sharing…and I’m ever so glad that you’re feeling better. 😀

  6. I am having trouble with the choosing joy recently. I want it. Rationally, I list all of the reasons why this choice is really the only option, but then, my negative side takes over and produces this yucky negativity. And then, I feel bad for feeling bad (something like “I should be this way, but instead I’m this way, so I am bad.”) But today at this hour, at this minute, at this second, I feel okay, hopeful even. And, I totally get what you are saying about needing to live, even if it means suffering, and regret being worse than suffering, but man that suffering is tough sometimes.


    • I love your new photo, Elizabeth. You look very happy. Choosing the joy isn’t always as easy as I made it sound, but you know that it’s always the right choice. Sometimes the body needs a kick to move it in the right direction. Upbeat music works for me. Plus, just getting on and tackling whatever the problem is.

  7. Yin and Yang. Suffering makes joy meaningful (and vice versa). If joy was all there was, it wouldn’t be very interesting or worthwhile.

  8. Hey Steve…Loved this post … And i m sure you are already out of your “Not so joyful” state…

  9. Whatever you’re out to try to achieve, I hope you succeed, Steve.

    I myself am prone to feeling down due to certain problems I won’t bore anyone with (my problems bore even myself haha) What I do to make myself feel better is try to work on some skills for perhaps an hour no matter how mundane or trivial they seem. I try to do this every day, just little things like studying to improve my command of a foreign language, for example. Just because it makes me feel like I’m not wasting away. And another thing is I try to be consciously aware that today I am healthy and remember to appreciate that, and not wait till I next fall sick.

    I’m happy for you you’re pursuing your dreams even though you think it won’t be easy. Best of luck!

    • Thanks, Halim. As you say, being active helps to counter negativity. And I’m convinced that being conscious and appreciative of all the wonderful things we have is the true secret of happiness! Wishing you lots of it!

  10. Great post, definitely thinking material.

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