There Is No Joy Without Sadness

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

I recently read The Book of Joy by His holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams who has collaborated with the Archbishop several times and serves as the interviewer / narrator in this book.  Not quite halfway through I made a note in the margin (this is why I buy books instead of checking them out from the library) referencing another great thinker by the name of Joy.

If you’ve seen the Pixar movie Inside Out, you know that Joy lives and works in the “Headquarters” in the brain of an adolescent girl named Riley. Joy is there with four other emotions – Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness. Joy pretty much runs the show, which seems to frequently involve keeping Sadness from playing any role. For the most part this has been pretty easy to do as this is one of the few Disney films where no parents die.

Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the movie and may want to, just stop right there. Otherwise, please, continue.

You see, in the end, Joy realizes that if Riley never experiences Sadness then she can’t really ever experience Joy. This is why I wrote that note in The Book of Joy near this passage:

“There is a Tibetan saying that adversities can turn into good opportunities,” the Dalai Lama explained in response to my question about how it is possible to experience joy even at times of suffering and adversity. “Even a tragic situation can become an opportunity. There’s another Tibetan saying that it is actually the painful experiences that shine the light on the nature of happiness. They do this by bringing joyful experiences into sharp relief.”

How could we truly experience joy without ever experiencing sadness? We sometimes need to feel this to be able to clearly see the difference and appreciate the joy and where we find it.

The same is true for connection. Without loneliness, or at least aloneness, the feeling of being connected may be something we take for granted.  I think many people, right now, are appreciating what connection feels like far more than they did even less than a year ago. At the same time, if you’ve been spending all of your time at home with the same people, you may be feeling a strong need to just be alone for a while.

It is easy to find sadness in the world, but sometimes we lose track of the joy and we have to look for it, or create it and share it with others.  Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu spoke during the interviews with Abrams about the need to create joy from within. 

The capacity is usually there. Think of someone in your life, even a pet, and picture them smiling. Think of something you’re grateful for. Think of something kind someone did for you or you did for someone else. Go for a walk and take in nature. Get a good nights sleep so you feel well rested in the morning. Keep a journal and write down things, big and small, that bring you joy and pull it out when you’re having trouble creating some joy within you.

At the same time, don’t shut out all sadness. Without it, we can’t truly appreciate how wonderful joy feels.

Featured image courtesy of Carey Linde under a CC-BY-SA license.

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