Up and down the East Coast, it’s been raining a lot—old Apollo has packed his bags and disappeared (he’s not the only one). Ordinarily, such grey skies would be sufficient to sour my mood, but as I was driving home the other day, I spied a little boy playing in the rain and he looked so joyful! As I passed by, he beamed at the sky as the rain landed on his little slicker. His sheer glee captivated me, making me pause, feeling wistful.
When was the last time you felt unmitigated joy?
When did you even come close?
Of course, that sort of pleasure is the purview of childhood, so I guess we won’t get to experience the exact same sort of elation as that sweet little boy, but elation remains possible for adults. It may be quieter. It may be less obvious or showy, modified by the pangs and arrows of this mortal coil, but rapture is our birthright. We just have to know where to find it—mostly, within ourselves.
There’s a lot we can learn from that child.
There he was, playing alone in a grey, wet day with nobody but me to witness. Just a little boy in the rain. He wasn’t worrying about how he looked on the swing or whether it was babyish to feel so content. He didn’t ask himself if he deserved it. His thoughts weren’t filled with guilt about filling the house with muddy footprints or about what he was going to do later or if he might catch a cold. Or if his friends were doing something better. Sitting on that swing was the best feeling in the world.
As adults, we squander the ability to set down our cares and lose ourselves in a moment of joy. To do so would be irresponsible or overly indulgent (we tell ourselves), especially when we are bombarded with a preponderance of evidence of what a mess the world is. As serious, responsible people, it’s hard to give ourselves over to feelings of joy. Everything we have could disappear in a second if we let down our guard. It could all go so wrong. Confounded, we set our jaw in disapproval at people who stick their heads in the sand, considering them irresponsible and more than just a little selfish. I know, I get it.
But seeing that child reminded me there’s another way to live. It may not provide the whole answer, but it provides an important part. He reminded me of my JOY. Of the joy I used to feel. Where is it??? Of the pleasure that’s available if only we take the time and effort to tap into it. The wistfulness he triggered was a good kind, a kind that I want to get back to, a happiness that isn’t beyond me.
It’s not beyond you, either.
We have to remember that creating magic is largely an internal process. Others cannot do it for us. How many people do you know who sidestep happiness, preferring cynicism or anger or victimhood as their go-to perspective? “I can’t be happy because of X.” Not can’t—won’t. It’s a choice. Looking back, did circumstances for Grumpy Gus or Bad Mood Betty warrant or justify their sour, woe-is-me stance over the course of DECADES or was it simply more comfortable to grouse? You already know the answer. They were determined to be negative. Happiness requires determination.
My theory on Bad Mood Betty is that joy became too painful for her, involving too much of a risk because happiness inevitably fades away. Hope is a tricky thing—it’s wonderful and important, but when we get disappointed, it can feel nearly impossible to summon the will to pick ourselves back up. I guess Betty and Gus felt safer remaining numb to joy.
How numb are you?
I believe that if we try to let hope back in, we will find our way back to that magic. It’s a magic I want for myself—what about you? When I see someone expressing the sort of exuberance that little boy in the rain did, I want it for myself. It lifts me up and gives me hope. Those people at Tough Mudder, goofing around in the mud, they don’t look ridiculous, they look happy. They have something I want: something I wist after. And the only person who can make it happen…is me.
So, even if the sun isn’t shining where you are, I want you to find something silly or sweet to infuse into your day. Make a point of noticing something that makes you grin. Happiness requires work, it requires determination, and it requires us to see the wonderful that happens when just passing by.