What is the difference between joy and the pursuit of happiness? In my last post I commented on my day at Holy Child School in Potomac, MD, and how we discovered that one word amongst hundreds in their visioning and guiding documents stood out to so many in the room: Joy. Science teacher Reesh Powers tweeted me a link to an article in The Atlantic that explores the pursuits of happiness and the leading of a meaningful life. The article suggests that the pursuit of happiness has elements of inherent selfishness, and that if we fixate on happiness as a goal we risk self-absorption.
I agree, but I think my observation on the role of joy in a school falls outside of, or perhaps transcends the dilemma of happiness and meaningfulness. I have always believed that “happiness does not just happen”; in fact at one point I nearly made that the title of my first book, The Falconer. When we ask people what they want for themselves or their children in this life, when we really drill down, almost always the answer comes back: “to be happy”. For some lucky few, happiness comes easily; for many others it requires some work, some process, to increase happiness as we face the many obstacles and roadblocks that life puts before all of us.
The pursuit of anything, even such a wonderful goal as “happiness” or the living of a meaningful life, is not what I meant by imagining Joy as a guiding word in the vision of a school. This joy is a state of being, not a pursuit. We have all seen it in the faces, actions, words, impact, and results amongst a group of children. They did not work to become joyful in that moment; they did not knowingly purse joy. Joy just “became”.
Do we work to create the opportunity for joy to “become”? Sometimes; maybe most times. But the work or process is not the moment, and the moment is what is joyful. Is this something of a zen koan? Yes. But what a wonderful conversation to have amongst our learning communities: how might we allow joy to “become”?!