Moving to Northern England with my parents when I was ten was a time of joy in my earlier years. I moved away from a small Paris apartment -where sunbathing on the concrete rooftop of the next door indoor pool was the only connection to the outdoors-, and an abusive school teacher, to a house with a backyard, a public school 's headmaster who opened his arms, and friends (see picture). This positive environment brought me closer to who I was, and therefore to joy.
How a book on joy –deep joy that has its roots in ourselves rather than outside- has become my bible. Here are the author’s commandments—and mine too now.
When I was back home in Paris at my mom’s, last month, I picked up a book that I had first read a year and a half ago. I had bought it in the neighborhood bookstore that I sometimes visit when I’m in the area.
This time back in September 2015, I picked up the book La puissance de la joie, literally The Power of Joy (the book has been published in the U.S. under the title Happiness, A Philosopher’s Guide). Just by reading the title, I knew it was the right pick for me. I had just lost my dad, and I was recovering from breast cancer and the treatment, while navigating through my divorce. The book turned out to be a revelation.
The author, Frederic Lenoir, is a French philosopher, sociologist, and speaker who specializes in religions and spirituality. He’s been drawn by the subject for a long time. When he was a young adult, he almost became a priest before realizing that it wasn’t the right path for him.
The book is a journey that examines how history’s greatest thinkers and religious figures have defined joy and ways to experience this feeling—sustainably. So much in this book resonated deeply with me. I’ll share a few of my favorite elements.
First, Lenoir distinguishes joy from pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is always connected to an outside element and short-lived. Last weekend, I enjoyed a great dinner with friends. We ate delicious home-made food, danced, and talked and laughed. That’s it. It was pleasurable in the moment. Now it’s gone. The author explains that happiness is a state of being, not an emotion. We build our happiness by finding balance. It’s kind of a work in progress, “an intellectual construction,” says Lenoir. Joy is different. It’s a deep and intense emotion that touches our heart, body and mind. Joy surpasses us. It can be stimulated by the outside and, most importantly, also by ourselves. According to Lenoir, we can experience joy at all times even during the grieving and suffering we encounter in our lives.
Being present is one of the doorways to joy. Being attentive to what we experience, whether it’s a walk in nature, playing with kids, listening to a friend. Early the other morning, I was facing the window of my yoga room while doing a series of sun salutations when I became aware of the sunset -amazingly red, pink and yellow, before my eyes. Suddenly, I became fully present to the flow of my sun salutations and was filled with a heightened vitality as I made that conscious connection between myself and the beauty of nature.
The book also introduces us to the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who was the champion of joy and gave the emotion the most thought. This thinker came to the conclusion that each time you grow in the direction of your true self is when you experience joy. Additionally, each time you move away from what stops you of being your true self--leave a job that’s not fit for you, a toxic relationship, conflict, etc.--you move closer to joy.
The “joie de vivre” also comes from connecting with others. Once you do the introspection work to know your deeper self and your true needs, Lenoir says, the right people will come to you and you can then experience and enjoy the connection with others, in a way that’s good for you.
Finally, Lenoir tells us to let go and go with the flow. Has a difficulty come up in your personal life or social environment that you can’t change? Let go and say yes to life by accepting the situation for what it is, and organically move into what life drives you to do. Marching in the Women’s March on January 21st, in Atlanta, in unity with hundreds of cities around the world was the prime recent example of cultivating joy in the midst of adversity for me.
How about you? How are you creating your own personal joy?