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“OPENING TO JOY” by Serge Beddington Behrens

What is joy?

I want to say a few words about joy because I think it is such an important human quality – when we feel joy, we feel connected to a more ebullient us, we feel real and often the best of us comes out – yet sadly, it is not nearly prevalent enough in our society, so attached are we to the dramas going on out in the world and to the belief that the reality portrayed to us by our media, is the only reality there is.

Well, folks, it ain’t! There are very abundant states of being waiting for us to embrace them if only we choose to do so!

So the first thing I’ll say about joy is that I don’t think it can be directly sought. Certainly, it does not come by trying to live a life of avoiding pain. In fact, often, it accompanies pain or is its flip side. William Blake understood this and begun one of his little poems with the words:

Joy and pain are woven fine/a clothing of the life divine…

Thus, the hedonist who devotes themselves to seeking pleasure – to feeling good and avoiding pain – actually tends to live the kind of lifestyle that makes themselves least susceptible to joy and all too often has to resort to chemical means to try to manufacture ersatz forms of it for himself!

Yes, Joy is connected to happiness – we could say, happiness is a very close relative – but it is much more. While happiness comes more from outside us – we are happy if we win the lottery, when we succeed in something – joy is more connected with the inside – with soul; it is much deeper than happiness and sometimes even emerges when there is nothing going on outwardly to make us feel happy.

Where is joy to be found?

Many people feel joy who possess very little, as it is a quality not so much connected with having but with being, not with the events that occur for us in our life but how open we are to allowing the spirit of life to flow into us at any time. If our ‘being’ life or inner life has not come into expression, however many possessions we may have, however materially rich we may be, however many boxes of things we think are important to have, are ticked, while we may experience feelings of satisfaction or being powerful, true joy will probably always elude us, as it is primarily to be found in our inner life.

For me feeling joy is quite subtle and requires that other dimensions of life come into play and if our lives are not lived in such a way as to evoke them, then we won’t experience it. If I look at those times in my life when I feel full of joy, they’re always when I am connected to my real self and as a result, connected to the larger whole of life. In fact, the stronger our connection to the larger whole of life – to what particularly touches us, be it other people, music, the realm of ideas, nature, our work, etc – the more potential we have to feel joy, and while it is felt by us personally, it is more than ‘something personal’. As an archetype, it exists within the world as a whole and therefore, metaphorically speaking, the more of the world out there we are able to hold inside us – that is, the wider our sphere of what it is about life that we include and embrace – the more potential we have for experiencing this quality.

Joy is very much connected to doing things that we love doing. Remember the great mythologist Joseph Campbell’s famous remark about choosing to live a life based on ‘following my bliss’, that is, focussing primarily on whatever our hearts draw us towards, which in his case, was exploring and writing about the mythologies of all the different world culture? I had the privilege of studying with him, and though he was over 80, his whole being radiated profound joy, which was very contagious. In my own little case, when I am with those I love, when I play tennis, swim in the ocean, teach seminars, try in my little way to help people, I feel very connected to myself and I observe joy often springs up. A few days ago, I went very early in the morning to the beach. No one was there. I watched the sun come up and I sank into the quiet warm waters and my heart exploded in joy. To have the full experience, I observed that my body also needed to be involved.

I think feeling joy is associated with three main things:

  • Situations of genuineness (and what is more genuine or itself but nature)
  • Having a quiet mind
  • Doing our best to live simply.

One reason why there is so little real joy in the world today is because the way many of us live is artificial, consequently, our minds are often disturbed and we make our lives too complicated.

Therefore, whether or not we experience joy is very much associated with the way we see life and choose to live it.


– Serge Beddington Behrens