I discovered joy and happiness a few months ago and, through that discovery, I’ve come to learn something about myself.
I discovered my joy while I was sitting on a friend’s back porch in Dar es Salaam. At the time, I was practicing checking in with myself daily by asking myself, “How am I feeling right now?” After going through job redundancy, relationship breakup and selling off most of my worldly possessions all in under a year, checking in with myself daily seemed like a good idea.
So, there I sat, asking myself how I was feeling in that moment and I found myself unable to answer. Not because I wasn’t feeling anything but because I was unable to identify what I was feeling. It was a feeling I don’t recall ever having before and it baffled me for about 15 minutes before I finally figured it out. It was joy! A deep, abiding, abounding joy that seemed to overflow from my heart the minute I identified what it was. Ever since then, I’ve found that this joy is a baseline feeling that I have every day, no matter what else is going on or how I’m feeling on top of that.
I think my joy comes from knowing that I’m finally living my life authentically – I’ve thrown out my assumption that I have to live by others’ expectations and have come to the conclusion that only one person’s expectations and opinions matter to me and that’s God’s. He requires the best of and from me so His expectations and opinions exceed everybody else’s anyway. And because I know that I’m finally walking the path that He mapped out for me, the joy just digs deeper and deeper into my soul. It gets even deeper every time I see Him working in my life, which is often now that I know to look for it.
Additionally, I found happiness. Real happiness. Not the pleasure that comes from getting someone’s approval or love, which I used to mistake for happiness in my less wise days.
Let me pause here to clarify something. I believe that joy and happiness are different things. I believe that joy is a deep and abiding feeling you have that isn’t eroded by momentary circumstances. I believe you can have joy even in the midst of anger, pain or frustration. I think people get joy in different ways. For example, my joy comes from pleasing God and knowing that I’m living out my purpose. Others find joy in other ways. Meanwhile, I think that happiness is a momentary feeling, like what you get when you when something good happens to you or to someone you love. Happiness comes and goes because it’s circumstantial.
So, I found happiness. I found it in stepping on an airplane to someplace I’ve never been before and in learning interesting new things and in exploring new places and in meeting challenges and in helping people. I’m pretty sure I’ll find it in even more things the more I expand my boundaries.
The thing I learned about myself is what experiences and people and circumstances make me joyful and happy. And being joyful and happy makes me even more joyful and happy because I spend my time doing those things or being with those people and in those circumstances that deepen the joy and bring the happiness.
All of this became crystal clear to me on Monday night while my driver Frank was taking me to my hotel. We were driving along the road from Kilimanjaro Airport to Arusha and it was dark because there were no streetlights on. I could only see what was illuminated by the headlights, which wasn’t that much. This huge feeling of happiness came over me and I couldn’t understand why. Why should I suddenly feel so happy driving in a safari van on a dark road in East Africa while chatting about nothing important with Frank? It was because I was out and about in the world and beginning a new adventure. As simple as that.
I honestly think that there’s nothing more I could ask for right now.