THIS IS NOT A DRILL MY DAD WROTE A BLOG POST.
This might be my favorite thing that has ever happened. Guys. My dad is seriously incredible and I am so incredibly honored/blessed/lucky to have him as my dad, mentor, and constant source of love and support. I am so excited to share his wisdom with you.
A few notes to keep in mind when talking to or reading Steve Parris. First, “Jiminy Cricket” is his way of swearing around small children, which is hilarious to me because using a character that tells you to let your conscious be your guide as a substitute for a bad word seems counter intuitive but it is actually brilliant. Second, he wrote the word asshole, I did not! Third, my dad is, well, like me in that he’s a bit verbose. But please please please read the whole thing. This guy is incredible and it is worth your time, I promise.
I am here to talk about JOY. I’m not talking about being happy. Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy” has it right: happiness is a feeling. Happiness is a response to good things occurring. Happiness depends on events and circumstances. But, joy is bigger than happiness. Joy is a state of being. And, unlike happiness that pops up and then leaves, joy sticks around if you choose for it to stay. Joy is not dependent on there being good times. Even in the boring times and hard times, joy can be there 24/7/365 if you choose.
If you attended Vacation Bible School, or were a member of a children’s choir, then you sang “I’ve got the Joy“. I remember singing it with enthusiasm, at full lung power:
“I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,
down in my heart, down in my heart!
I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart
down in my heart to stay!”
And, I meant every word of it. I’m not unique. Watch children who are loved, protected and healthy. You see joy. It is their state of being.
Then, we grow up.
Jiminy Cricket, adulting can squeeze the joy out of a fella! Debts, jobs, chores, responsibilities, insurance premiums, dead car batteries, meal planning, lawn mower that won’t start, A/C breaks down, bad hair days, traffic jams, 50 hour work weeks, jerks, snobs and nice people, deadlines and diets. All those activities, places and people that make up the day in and day out of living and trying to keep the noggin’ above water become a mundane blur of work, chores, paying debts, preparing meals, social media, TV, sleeping, waking groggily with the morning alarm; and… repeat. We start living for the weekends and vacations. Monday through Friday is something to get through instead of precious time to see the wonder and the joy of life.
Where is the joy in the mundaneness of the day-in-and-day-out? What is the joy in living the same-old-same-old? Well, it may suit us to plod along little to no joy. We find comfort in the familiarity of our plodding. We even take offense at those whose demeanor disrupts our mental cruise control. They are going either too fast or too slow for our speed, and irritate us because we have to hit our mental or emotional brake or accelerator.
You know the ones I’m talking about: those folks who live at the polar ends of the joy bandwidth. The smiling and perpetually effervescent person who is always seeing blue skies and pink unicorns. And, that person who makes Eeyore look like a party animal.
Plus, we are so darn busy. Who has time to search out, stop and embrace joy? We have places to go, things to do, people to see, emails to write, work to do and bills to pay. Joy can wait until the weekend.
But, living without joy 24/7/365 is not what God wants. God has a passion for joy. He wants us to be joyful, to rejoice, and to live in joy. He sent His Holy Spirit to surround us with joy. Paul the Apostle lists 7 fruits of the Holy Spirit. First listed is love, and second is joy. That’s right: of all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, only love is listed before joy. Joy is a top billing actor in the life God wants for us.
Sounds good. I like that sort of God. But, how do I firmly put joy in my life so that when I am in my twilight days, I won’t have regrets that I let life pass by in a monochromatic blur of the mundane?
Here are six easy actions you can take now that can make joy a fixture in your life.
First, choose joy. Your personality may be a glass half-empty sort, and you may think that precludes you from being a joyful sort of person. Wrong! Embrace and feel the joy that the glass is half-empty, and that you have the opportunity to fill the remaining half.
Second, search for joy. Look for it, and see it. Look and see the good, the beautiful, the sublime and the fun. When you see a sunrise or sunset, instead of thinking “Ooh, that’s pretty”, see it as God’s personal gift to make your day start (or end) seeing His joy for you. Joy can be in the smallest things if we look for them. In the movie “The Martian”, Matt Damon’s character, Mark Whatley is sitting on a park bench, waiting to teach a class of astronaut trainees. He gazes into the distance, absentmindedly drinking a cup of coffee when a group of trainees jog by on their morning run. They recognize Mr. Whately, slow, and acknowledge who he is. One even says “It’s an honor”. Mr. Whately looks embarrassed and uncomfortable, and he merely nods at the trainees. He then looks down, and sees a tiny plant sprouting. His face changes to a pleasant interest. He reaches down, gently touches the plant and says “Hey there”. In that moment of nervous and uncomfortable embarrassment, Mr. Whatley finds joy in the tiny, barely visible two leafed sprout. He searched for joy, and saw the joy in what he was looking at.
Third, don’t sweat the small stuff. If you do, then you are enslaved to someone manipulating your feelings. For example, when someone cuts you off on the highway, or does not allow you to merge, instead of getting angry and thinking “asshole”, think they may be having a bad day and are distracted, or are in a rush to get somewhere. Okay, I’ll be real: they probably are be a digitus impudicus throwing asshole. But, create and own your vibe rather than allowing stiff-finger to own it.
Fourth, take time to live in the moment. This is the sibling to looking for joy. Look for joy, then stop and live in it. This is important. Sometimes we can spot joy a mile away. But, if we do not stop to live in it, then it is just another passing wave in the ocean of life. I know you are thinking I’m being trite by recommending you stop and smell the roses. But, don’t discount that as an empty platitude. Today, that stopping and smelling is all the fashion called “Mindfulness”.
Let me tell you a story about looking and stopping to drink in joy. Some of you may know this story. In 2007 world renowned violin virtuoso Joshua Bell performed incognito as a buster in a Washington D.C. subway station. It was an informal social experiment to see how many people would stop to listen. Only days before, Mr. Bell had performed in Boston to audiences paying $100 per seat. (I paid $75 a ticket in 2016 for a front row seat to watch Mr. Bell perform with the Fort Worth Symphony, and it was worth every penny.) Here was a violin genius playing masterpieces by Bach, Schubert and others on a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin. Hundreds of morning commuters rushed by to catch their subway to work. Only a handful glanced or stopped to watch and listen to Mr. Bell as he played for 45 minutes. Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning article about the event he entitled “Pearls before Breakfast“. It is instructive to read Mr. Weingarten’s article, and watch a time-lapse video of the commuters passing Mr. Bell. Ask yourself: would you have stopped and let the beauty and emotion of the music surround you? Or, would you have thought: “That guy is pretty good. Ugh! I wish these people in my way would move faster, or I’ll miss my train.”
Fifth, eat dinner with your family; and, pray together as a family. The family that eats together and prays together stays together.
Sixth, know that God loves you, and wants your life to be a joyful one.
Here is a simple activity that may help you and your family lean into a joyful life. It is a Parris family tradition. Every night, the family gathers together for dinner and hold hands while one prays, giving thanks for whatever is on that person’s heart. Then, with heads bowed, and holding hands, we go around the table with each stating for what they are thankful. Later in the dinner, each person is asked two questions: (1) “How was your day?” And, (2) “What was the best part of your day?” The answer to the first question can be whatever the person experienced: great, good, boring, so-so, awful, terrible, worst-day-ever. Then, without further exposition on their answer, the second question is asked and answered. The answer to the second question has to be something good. It cannot be lame. E.g., “The day is almost over”. Also, the answer to the second question cannot be used as a segue to lament how bad the day sucked. If you wish, you can later in the meal talk about how the day was a no-good, rotten day. But now, we are focused on what was the best part of the day. With that activity we capture at one meal the basics of living a joyful life, while at the same time voicing a recognition that life is not always blue skies and green lights.
Try it, and I hope you find it causes joy to be not only a good state of being for you, but also a bonding force of the family.
Steve, father of the fabulous Hipster Ginger.