Inertia - Nº109
Smile, joy looks good on you
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.
— Walden by David Thoreau
A few days ago, I talked to my cousin about the happiest people we know. Who they were to us and what makes them so. Radiant, beautiful smiles. The ability to not take life too seriously. Living like no one is watching or measuring. And a tendency to luxuriate in the present. No one holds the key to happiness, but these people appear to be the closest to it.
Here’s the crux of it: when we’re luxuriating in the present is when we’re the most special. Because this is when the bridge between happiness and joy is at its strongest. The divine beauty of this world is in the details, the same way our day-to-day experiences carry our meaning.
You may have heard that happiness is a state of mind, while joy is a feeling that comes from within. Happiness often depends on external factors (achievements, relationships, possessions or circumstances) and expectations that can only ever be temporary. It generally depends on how things are going in our lives. And happiness can also be heavily influenced. We may feel happy when we get a promotion but unhappy when we see someone else get a bigger one. Or we may feel happy when the sun is shining but unhappy when it rains.
Joy, born from a simple smile, is independent of external factors. It’s the feeling of taking a sledgehammer to your little anxious window on the world and letting air and light in. There is no race and no finish line. No hourglass running out. Only presence at its best. It’s your true nature, being interlinked with happiness and gratitude, but able to stand on your own two feet.
Joy is not about what happens to us but how we perceive it and respond. Strongly associated with subjective well-being—essential for human flourishing—as it pertains to not overlooking the smaller bits of joy in everyday life. It is not influenced by our expectations, comparisons, or judgements. For example, we may feel joy when we see the beauty of nature, regardless of the weather. Or when we get to express our creativity, regardless of the outcome. Or the best of all: being connected with our inner peace, regardless of the chaos around us.
Joy is feeling like our life makes sense.
It’s having a purpose-driven by goals we care about and feeling like our lives matter. A 2022 study involving over 3,000 people reported that valuing one’s life experiences, or experiential appreciation, was a potent way of making life more meaningful. When asked to recall their most meaningful recent experience, most people expressed, “it was not about their grand, overarching goals, but something simpler and more mundane that stood out, such as having an enjoyable conversation or being surrounded by nature.”
“It’s not just about you creating meaning in your head,” said the study’s co-writer. “it’s about detecting meaning that’s already out there.”
Think of joy as something to snack on. One thing I learned firsthand about relationships (also backed by research) is that it’s about championing each other and fostering bonds through celebrating small things regularly; it’s not just about your anniversaries but all of the small wins you and your partner experience.
There are snacks of joy to have when you spend time reconnecting with yourself. It gives you the time to realign with your authentic self and purpose. It’s not about winning. It’s about awareness and presence. Flow and harmony, Healing and transformation. It lasts much longer and looks good on you—no matter who you are.
I’ve always been considered a happy person by others. Someone who creates and brings energy rather than someone who saps it (I’m sure you’ve seen the difference). And it’s because I don’t relish the idea of recounting experiences in a negative way. I don't see the point. And it’s not nice to be around.
Even when things go wrong, I try to orient my mindset towards the positives. Challenges and difficulties are faced head-on because I already know no one ever faces them without fear. So my feelings are rarely mine alone.
Being courageous and highly optimistic doesn’t mean you are never anxious or realistic, the same way that feeling joy or gratitude doesn’t mean that we stop pursuing our goals and lofty ambitions. Joy and gratitude go hand in hand and feed off of each other. So, it actually suggests that we pursue them with more passion and enthusiasm, knowing that they are expressions of our true selves.
A life of joy is something you prepare for by taking time to recount past episodes and associate more moments with positive feelings. Write them down. Experience more alone or share your emotions to uplift others. Accentuate the moment if you must. Focus on sensations and emotions. Put more weight on them. It takes practice to improve at appreciating experiences (you don’t need to get it right immediately), but once you learn it and slow down and pay attention to the details, your life feels more fulfilled and meaningful.
And lastly: avoid killjoy thinking. There is no need to neutralise a positive mood. Ignoring the songs of nature to complain about the cold is tantamount to snatching a snack of joy out of your own mouth. And if you rarely see the good in your life, in the simple things, you’ll always be easily overwhelmed by the bad.
No matter who you are or where you are, there’s something to bring out the joy and best in you. So let yourself smile, because it looks good on you.