Joy!

JoyTis the season…this time of the year we throw the word Joy around a lot. But really, what is joy? Happiness seems to be a pretty consistent lack of depression and a state of bliss is usually only achieved by yogis. Isn't contentment really one step away from the acknowledgement that you're actually miserable? Joy though, well joy seems to be something that is fleeting for most of us most of the time, but that is realistically attainable. Joy is that spring in your step, the gleam in your eye, the new love in your life or the pleasure of finding yourself surrounded by your loved ones and, for at least a short time, truly enjoying each others company.

I find that as a middle-aged adult, joy is something that I have to work on; if I'm lucky it sometimes comes to me unbidden, sneaking up behind me and shouting “boo!”. I've come to realize that, while I'm lucky to be generally happy with my life, it's those moments of joy that are truly energizing and inspirational. Recently, I've tried to come to a better self-awareness of what really brings me joy and attempt to seek those things and experiences out.

One realization that I have come to, better late than never, is that for too long in my life, I have settled for a career that was satisfying enough, but not joyful in any way. I made a change, and now, I am able to find true joy in the creativity my job affords me and the wonderful colleagues I get to interact with day in and day out. I work for bosses who appreciate me and let me know it–people I trust, respect and have a deep affection for. Given how many hours a week I spend working, I now realize what a huge gap it was in my life that those hours used to be joyless.

And these musing about the nature of joy, and how important it is for me to feel it in my life more than I have in the past, make me think about my daughters and the joy they have in their lives. Children truly have a capacity for joy that most of us seem to lose as we get older. Most children, at least in the western world, have enough of a carefree existence that, even if their parents are burdened by worries, debts, frustrations, they manage to find enormous joy in their friends, their toys, their pets, their music. But do they find it in their schools? I spend the majority of my life working and children spend the majority of theirs learning. Now that I've realized how important it is that I find joy in those hours of my life, I have to ask the question, shouldn't we give our children this as well?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, does school have to be so joyless, so boring? We all do better at something when we enjoy it, and just how enjoyable is endless studying for standardized tests? I have so many friends whose children hate going to school, try to avoid it at all costs, cry when the school bus comes. My children love going to school, try to avoid a sick day at all costs and complain bitterly when they have a snow day. Truly! They find going to their progressive school so joyous, so much fun, that they would happily go 365 days a year if that were an option. Putting the academic argument aside for just a moment, don't we really all want our children to find real joy in the activities that they spend most of their waking hours doing? In an age of serious medication of many children for depression or related disorders, when teenagers are committing suicide at truly horrifying rates, and bullying is rampant in schools, shouldn't we at least consider whether putting more joy and fun into the educational process would help at all?

There is something about the average school day in an American public school that is so antithetical to what makes children happy, to what they consider fun; does it really have to be like this? You and I have been in a dialog for almost a year now about the value of grades, the efficacy of testing and the use of technology in the classroom. I've received some really great, thoughtful comments both in support of my position and calling me out for oversimplifying, or being absurdly idealistic. I'm not an educator, or even an expert on education, so I admit it, I'm in no way qualified to redesign the American education system. I'm just a parent whose kids get to go to a really amazing school and who sees so many other children who aren't lucky enough (at least in my view) to have access to the kind of education my daughters have and who says “that's really a shame. Can't we do anything about that?”

I looked at my own life and said, “I don't had enough joy in my day-to-day work life and there's something wrong with that,” I was able to do something about it, and now I have a lot more joy. I think having that joy in my life has made me an easier person to live with, which has made me a better mother and wife. I’m sure that it’s done good things for my health; I certainly sleep much better these days and feel that I have more physical and emotional resilience. Is it possible that if we tried to make education more joyful for our children, that they might reap some of these benefits?

One of the constant gripes I hear about our children and young people is that they are so tuned into Facebook and their mobile devices. Maybe, if we gave them a better alternative during at least some of their work day, they’d be less inclined to tune out. Perhaps I’m naive, seeing the world through world through rose colored glasses, but I wanted to share my personal epiphany with you all this holiday season. Joy to the world!

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