What does joy mean to you?


In my last Viewsletter, I referred to the Book of Joy, published in 2016, which condenses a week’s worth of discussions between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama into a compendium of wisdom. In today’s complicated world, I believe it’s worth looking at joy, once again, not just as the theme of a book, or even an emotion; but, as a framework for living that can help us weather the storm we’re all in.

With that in mind, I’ve taken the conversation about joy beyond Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama to include other luminaries and near-luminaries, whose words add texture, depth, and color to the subject.

Here are eight quotations, which speak to each of the pillars of joy described in the book and what I see as the meaning of the quote…

1 Perspective

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

 Frances Hodgson Burnett

It is. The question is whether it’s filled with flowers or weeds. Underneath perspective lies choice. We choose to see what’s there, or what isn’t. As hard as it is at times, I choose to see flowers.

2 Humility

A great man is always willing to be little.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t believe there are many great men, today, which is unfortunate. We need more of them: great men and great women, to stand as role models for all of us. I believe humility is fueled by true self-confidence and stoked by courage; the courage to let go of the ego that keeps us tethered to insecurity. There is power in a humble voice, because it acts like a magnet, drawing us to it, closer and closer, until we can finally hear what is being said. Sometimes, it’s big to be small. 

3  Humor

“There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.”

— Victor Borge

And, the truth hurts. Does that mean that pain is funny? I don’t believe so. I do believe that the truth, when pointed in our direction, is a mirror of our imperfections as human beings. If we can find humor in our imperfections, if we can find the strength to laugh at ourselves, our ability to navigate life sharpens. That’s not funny; it’s true.

4 Acceptance

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

 Maya Angelou

It is a special place, that home, and it is hard to find, but it is there, always there. That home is your identity, that soft rock at the center of all things human. That home is no less than your sanctuary, where you can be — must be — simply, you. There is no rent or mortgage to pay. The only obligation is to pay attention. Safe home.

5 Forgiveness

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 Mahatma Gandhi

How big are your muscles? I’m still working on mine. Forgiveness is a two-edged sword. On one hand it is liberating, like cleaning out a closet long overrun by useless stuff. On the other hand, part of what you’re clearing out is the pain you’ve kept alive by not forgiving. Forgiveness frees you from pain, allowing you to fly.

6 Gratitude

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”


Contrary to the popular saying, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Nor, is it really worth keeping up with the Joneses. Especially, today. Gratitude costs nothing. If you’re loved, if you are healthy, if you can eat, sleep, and peer into the eyes of nature from behind your mask, be grateful. More isn’t necessarily more.

7 Compassion

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 Leo Buscaglia

Compassion is like a magic act that amazes in its seeming impossibility. Yet, we choose to accept it because it moves us. It causes us to suspend disbelief and marvel at its power to make us believe. I am always heartened when I can offer a random act of kindness that lift someone up, even a little. The joy in the voice of the hospital coordinator, whom I called simply to say thank you for helping me cut through red tape. The weekly dollar I gave to the guy at the corner of Madison and 49th Street, who nods his head in appreciation. What he does with that dollar doesn’t matter. I try.

8 Generosity

“You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

 John Bunyan

I see compassion and generosity as kissin’ cousins. They are two sides of the same coin. Both call for giving without asking for something in return. ‘Live generously’ is an expression I learned from a friend whose successful career reflects this idea. I believe there is a mountain of gold waiting for you, when you do something for someone, simply, because they need it; no ulterior motive, no tit-for-tat, no negotiated, mutual back-scratching. Just, because. Live generously.

Do any of these quotes move you? If so, please weigh in. Let people know what joy means to you.

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