There have been plenty of moments when I have wanted 2020 to end. For as many of those moments I have felt, I also wanted the year to extend longer in hopes of better circumstances, more hopeful news or positive experiences for the people around me, folx within the communities or institutions I am part of, and for myself. There has been a great deal of loss and pain this year, not to mention, suffering. The personal and collective toll of it all are hard to deny. It has made me reflect further on the concept of joy. Can we find joy amidst the existence of our pain and suffering? How does joy differ from happiness? Why would joy be something that is important to find right now?
There is an old Buddhist saying that has been attributed to writer Haruki Murakami as a quote "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." This refers to the idea that there is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is what shows up in everyday in life physically, biologically, and socially. We encounter illnesses, injustices, or inequities, and we see pain. Suffering, on the other hand, is how we react to the existence of this pain. Suffering is the state that reflects our interpretation of the pain, and the tension we may feel in not experiencing what is desired.
In, The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu discussed being able to attain joy despite adversity or tragedy. According to the Dalai Lama, joy is bigger than happiness because whereas joy can be an enduring and lasting state, happiness is "dependent on external circumstances". Joy comes from within where the person possesses a joyful mental state that is enduring and rooted in concern for the well-being of all beings (compassion, love and generosity). As Archbishop Desmund Tutus has been quoted to state "It"s wonderful to discover that what we want is not actually happiness. It is not actually what I would speak of. I would speak of joy. Joy subsumes happiness. Joy is the far greater thing."
As it turns out, we can transform our suffering into joy. Joy can be present in the midst of our suffering when we can recognize that although pain and suffering is part of our human experience, we can choose how we respond to our pain. When we can exercise compassion such as turning towards others when we are suffering and allow ourselves to feel sadness paving the way for self-reflection, we invite joy to show up. Sadness, in particular, according to the Archbishop leads us to empathy, compassion and the recognition of our need for one another.