Joy happened again this morning with this 6:30 a.m. email! This is from the mother of an aspiring young scholar.
“Well, Eli has a new calling! Eli and I spoke out at the school board meeting last night in front of a room of at least 100. Eli was the star of the meeting, the only child to speak. After his speech that he wrote at the last minute, he recited his 10 core values and blew the crowd away. He had crowds of people coming up to meet him after the meeting. A couple came up and said, “He spoke so well. Even high school students here can’t speak like he did and also look the audience in the eye.” You would be very proud, and he said he owes it all to you. He plans to speak at all meetings, and I told him he is going to be a leader of greatness! Also, Ken told the board of his intent to submit the charter application! Very proud of Eli. I already know he is a great kid, but this room was impressed.”
Joy Informed by Principles
My observation is that joy is informed by individuals guided by principles of happiness. First, they have a bedrock of principles. Second, they possess a strong moral compass. Third, they have a vision aligned with that compass of moral values. Fourth, they know how to communicate and build consensus and support for their vision.
It is moving to see how moral values can animate young people and help them discover purpose and joy.
Joy as a Destination
When we think of the word joy it is a state of being as well as a destination. Other words that fit that target are felicity and bliss. We may also think of the word happiness. Yet according to Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, happiness may be a comparative word.
“To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases, we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. Happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires.”
Happiness only exists in comparison whereas joy, felicity and bliss seem to be the goal or objective.
When finding joy, perhaps synonyms provide explanation and guidance on the path to joy’s fullness or perfected happiness. If bliss, felicity and joy are the ends, what are the words providing the means to the end? Consider happy, pleasure, ecstasy, delight, fun. These words also seem to be transitory, comparative, and more slight than joy. Picking the right word may help us discover what we experience and where we are going. Consider the word fun.
Fun: Sport; vulgar merriment. A low word. (Webster’s Dictionary)
Fun is amusement, temporary and also comparative. While fun, pleasure, and ecstasy are important for relaxation, I hope it is not our destination.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains that happiness does not lie in amusement. He suggests that ultimate happiness is found in leading a virtuous life—One that requires exertion over amusement.
Benjamin Franklin and Felicity
Of the founders, Benjamin Franklin was the one who may have best captured the creative and entrepreneurial spirit through discovery, improvement and living a flourishing abundant life. He noted, “Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.” (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, p. 123)
Felicity is a natural outcome from a life of discovery of virtuous and moral character and doing good for others. Such actions take us to the destination of bliss with a fullness of joy, perfected happiness and felicity. This destination is the harvest of a life spent for others; where all our preparation, work and industry turn our actions to happiness and joy for others and for self. Franklin knew well the outcome when one failed to use industry and frugality to fill the seemingly empty or uneventful days on the calendar. As he recited the proverb: “It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.” (p. 91)
Franklin also noted, “Work and industry are the natural remedies for despair and depression. When men are employed they are best contented; for on the days they worked they were good natured and cheerful, and, with the consciousness of having done a good day’s work, they spent the evening jollily; but on our idle days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, finding fault with their pork, the bread, etc. and in continual ill-humor…”(p. 141)
Your Principles Are Your Compass
For me, the real pleasure is seeing how deeply principled core values impact our desired destiny of joy.
“Principles are natural laws that are external to us and that ultimately control the consequences of our actions. Values are internal and subjective and represent what we feel strongest about and what guides our behavior. Values govern behavior, but principles govern the consequences of those behaviors.”—Stephen R. Covey
I think Eli is on the path of virtue and finding greater joy with each step.
What is your destination? Is it fun? Pleasure? Excitement? Or is it fullness of joy and perfected happiness through moral actions that bring joy, bliss and felicity? Can you arrive at that ultimate destination absent self-transcendence for others?