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Resolution Joy

Tis’ the season for making resolutions.

At least for those of us who welcome (and need!) a reason for making a fresh start, the beginning of a new year is the High Holy Day of Resolution-Making.

Again this year, like previous years, I’ve thought about making all the normal, predictable resolutions:

·         Lose ten pounds.  Well, actually more like fifteen pounds, since I’ve been conducting an experiment on myself since Christmas Day: to never say “no” to a Christmas cookie, chocolate, or glass of egg-nog, on the theory that I will get so sick and tired of sweets that I will be ready for and actually welcome salads, skim milk, and raw vegetables in 2012.  (This “binge” theory, by the way, has, as far as I know, absolutely no basis in any scientific research. And it probably horrifies ever y nutritionist, psychologist, or dietician out there.  And come to think of it, it doesn’t really even work: I just end up missing all that stuff even more. But it has made the past five days a lot of fun! Yum!)

·         Exercise more.   I like to run, but because we all tend to stick to doing what we like, this resolution really means adding things that I don’t like, such as stretching (I’m about as flexible as a Tea Partier negotiating on taxes) and strength training (it is embarrassing, at the bench press, to have my starting point be the bar, alone, with a goal of actually getting to add, you know, weights at either end…)

·         Stop procrastinating (which has been my goal since 1978; I’m getting to it…).

·         Spend less/save more money.  (This resolution is actually very easy: now with two sons in college, we have gone from eating out about a week to splurging about once a week on something that does not involve Ramen noodles).

But again, this year, like the past few years, I’ve had a strange experience on my way to making my resolutions.

And that’s this.  I’ve asked myself: “Wait, are those resolutions, even if you could keep them, really going to make you--or the world--a better person or place?”

And so – while keeping these resolutions at some level – I’ve been inspired, once again, to make different kinds of resolutions.  Ones that, to the degree I can keep them, will “scatter joy.”

And so – again – here are my thoughts about making “scatter joy” resolutions:

First, we make a distinction between joy and happiness.

Joy can be found in all circumstances.

Joy is an inside job.

It has virtually nothing to do with our external circumstances. People can be full of joy in prison, or hungry, or broke, or even while going through great personal tragedy.

Happiness, on the other hand, is tied to circumstances. It’s dependent on externals.  If the day is going well, we “feel happy,” but all it takes is someone to be rude to us or something going wrong, and our happiness vanishes.

That’s why changing our external circumstances in the hope that doing so will “make us happy” is foolish.  A change of circumstance is no guarantee of happiness.

So the secret to joy is to realize that joy is available to us.  That joy is a gift from God planted deep within our heart, but accessible.

It’s accessible to us when we recall not just WHO we are, but WHOSE we are: children of God. Beloved sinners.  Imperfect, but treasured people.

Joy is accessible to us when we cultivate “an attitude of gratitude,” looking for things in each day—each hour—for which we can be grateful.

And—counter-intuitive as it sounds— perhaps the easiest and most effective way to access joy is
by simply smiling.

You might want to try it:


Smile more often.  Or at least realize the degree to which your “default mode” has become a slight frown, a tense, serious, look.  And then pause.  And smile.

Why?  Because, as Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist/Christian philosopher has written,

 “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

So, here’s to scattering joy in 2012.


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