|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Color of Joy
Living in the Light of Abiding Happiness
Joy is the sweet voice, joy the luminous cloud
We in ourselves rejoice!
And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight,
All melodies the echoes of that voice,
All colors a suffusion from that light.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
What color is a yellow chair?
For me as a painter, the answer is not quite as simple as it sounds.
I learned long ago that the apparent color of an object (the way it looks) is a very different thing from its intrinsic color (the color it really is).
In the fiery light of sunset, the yellow chair may reflect an orange glow. As daylight continues to fade, the color will fade as well. In the cool shadows of a treeshaded lawn, the chair may take on a greenish hue or appear almost violet when silhouetted against a distant sunlit meadow.
And yet, if you move the chair back to a neutral light, you see that the intrinsic color of the chair has never really changed. Regardless of the external circumstances, a yellow chair is still a yellow chair.
Artists refer to the yellowness of that chairthe color it is no matter what the lightas its local color. Local color is the color that belongs to the basic chemistry or biology of the thing, that is not dependent on tricks of light or external modification. Outside forces may change its appearance, but not its essence.
That analogy helps me a lot when I think about my happiness.
After all, each of us wants to be happy. Given the choice, we'd prefer to live our entire lives in the golden lightof fortunate circumstances. And we all have a mental list of what such happiness entails. What's on your list? A great job, a happy family, a life of adventure?
The problem, of course, is that none of us gets everything we think we want all the time. Some of us don't even get close. Others get what we yearned for and then find we don't want it anymore. And although we can exercise considerable influence on what happens around us, we can no more dictate our changing circumstances than I can tell the sunset to hold still while I attempt to capture its color on canvas.
Basing my happiness on what happens to me, then, is a little like depending on the ambient light to color an unpainted chair yellow. It might work for a while, but sooner or later the light, and the chair, will change. If I really want a yellow chair, therefore, I'll do well to invest in some brushes and a can or two of yellow paint!
And if I really want to be happy, I'd better realize that joy, as poet Don Blanding once put it, is an inside job. I need to cultivate a fundamental attitude of satisfaction and celebration that can keep on shining golden no matter how the light shifts around me. I need to concentrate on making sure that joy is the local color in my heart.
Maintaining that kind of durable joy isn't quite as simple as slapping a coat of paint on a chair, but it's not all that mysterious, either. Over the years I have discovered a number of strategies that help me keep my heartattitude sparkling and tinted with joy.
Choose Your Color
Before the strategies, however, comes the decision. At some deep level, consciously or unconsciously, you have to decide that you want to be joyful. You have to take a deep breath and trust that life, despite its ups and downs, is essentially wonderful, that the finished tapestry of your days will be a thing of beauty.
And yes, it is a leap of faith. Depending on your personality or your temperament or your philosophy or your current circumstances, it may feel like a big leap. If you are going through a time of pain or doubt, you may wonder if you can even make it. But you don't have to take that leap of faith like a trapeze artist swinging out over nothingness. It can feel, in fact, like taking a simple, small step in your chosen directionthe direction of happiness.
"And now you have joy?"
"I do indeed."
"And how did you get it?"
"I chose it, admitted it into my life, then I celebrated its arrival in myheart.
I made my celebration so loud and boisterous,
I prohibited all gloom from attending the celebration."
You take a step. You choose your colordecide that joy is the hue you want your heart to be. And then you start making the little and large choices that over time will paint your heart happy.
It really is possible to color a dark canvas golden, even with the tiniest of brushes. You just keep on dabbing the paint, and sooner or later you transform the surface with brightness. In the same way, if you keep on making joychoices, small and large, your heart will eventually display a joyful tint that is more durable than you ever imagined.
Give Yourself a Perk
How do you make joyful choices?
On the very simplest level, you condition yourself for joy by doing little things you love on a regular basis.
I have long been in the habit of building joy-breaks into the course of my daysallowing myself certain small pleasures for the express purpose of keeping my attitude bright. I like Luci Swindoll's term for these small indulgences: "perks."
One of my favorite perks during fair weather is to simply take a book out into the sunshine. After lunch I pull up a chair on my patio and spend ten minutes or so basking and browsing. The combination of the warm sun, the absorbing words, and the pure relaxation is almost guaranteed to lift my spirits and send me back to work with a higher joy-quotient.
Now, the thought of reading outdoors may do nothing for you. But how would you feel about a walk in the neighborhood park...or parking your car on a hilltop and enjoying the view...a chat with an old friend over coffee...lighting a candle and listening to fine music? Anything that builds a simple sense of pleasure or optimism can be effective in building up the base coat of happiness deep in your heart.
I should probably add at this point that I am not talking about selfish, self-destructive, or self-delusional behaviors. I'm not speaking of feeding your inner emptiness with a gallon of ice cream or bolstering your shaky self-esteem with an expensive afternoon at the mall, loading up debt on your credit cards. Such compulsive or addictive pursuits paint only a temporary wash of brass that tarnishes rapidly. Their end result is more pain, not more joy.
The good news, though, is that the world is absolutely brimming with simple forms of enjoyment that do no such harm. Even if you struggle with compulsive or addictive behavior in some areas of your life, you can still find countless ways to give yourself a perk without adding to your problems. I believe you'll find, in fact, that the very act of indulging yourself in simple, joy-building perks will make it easier for you to say no to the false joy of destructive pleasure.
Even if you haven't felt joyful in a long time, chances are you can think of at least one small pursuit that makes you smile, lightens your load, refreshes your spirit. If it is small and simple, why not do it today?
Don't let yourself be swayed by excuses. Don't let your hurried consciousness nag that you don't have time. Anyone can spare fifteen minutes a day for the practice of conscious joy. Above all, ignore the scolding inner voice that accuses you of being frivolous or selfish. Setting yourself up for joy is an investment, not an indulgence. Investing the necessary time and expense to build a joy-base in your heart will not only bless you; it will give you what you need to be a blessing to others who are themselves in need of a little joy.
I think most of us look at personal delights as somewhere between
minimally important and borderline immoral.
We like them, but we're not sure we ought to.
We seldom give them a high priority when other demands
are competing for our attention.
Nevertheless, the soul feeds on simple joys and withers without them.
Look for Surprises
In addition to your deliberately planned perks, don't forget to watch for surprises. You never know what unplanned encounter will rescue a dreary day and add a solid brushstroke of joy to your heart.
The other day, for instance, I discovered a spot in my neighborhood I had never seen before. Choosing a slightly different route for my daily exercise, I came upon a wonderful little oasis of garden, lawn, trees, even a little footbridgea carefully tended snippet of paradise. The gift of this discovery was a real delight. I returned from my walk with my joy-quotient bolstered.
The potential for such joyful surprises lurks around every corner of almost every day. A funny remark from a child, a spectacular cloud formation, a tree full of butterflies, a fresh breeze on a hot day, or just a simple, unexpected sense that all is wellany of these small experiences can be a gift of joy if you let yourself receive it. But in the rush of schedules and responsibilities and even recreational pursuits, it becomes far too easy to go through life with blinders on, oblivious to (and far too busy for) the joyful surprises waiting to be discovered at any given moment. If you want these little gifts of joy in your life, therefore, you may actually have to train yourself to notice them.
Keep a Glow Book
I suppose I really expanded my ability to notice little delights during the year when I was courting my wife, Nanette. Young, in love, and separated by hundred of miles, we were always on the lookout for innovative ways to keep our relationship close. One of our most successful strategies was the use of our "glow books"little notepads we each carried with us constantly.
Throughout each day we would record good things we saw and experiencedsmall blessings, unexpected encounters, funny moments. I would receive an especially interesting assignment in my job as a movie artist, and I would write it down. My neighbor in the apartment next door would bring over a sample of her homemade stew, and I'd make note of that delicious offering in the book. Nanette would write of a dream she had the night before, a conversation with a classmate, a person she was able to help in her nursing position.
At night we shared our jottings in marathon phone conversationscreating burgeoning phone bills but also nurturing our growing relationship. (Even today, after many years of marriage, we share the joyful surprises of our days, notes in hand, during our nightly quiet time together.)
But my glow book turned out to have another benefit as well: It turned me into a more joyful person. During this phase of my life, I was somewhat impoverished and chronically overworked. I lived in a big, smoggy city far from the people I loved, and I had yet to have any success at selling my paintings. I had every reason to be discouraged or even unhappy. But as I jotted experiences in my glow book, I noticed I was becoming more and more aware of the beauty and wonder all around me. I was conditioning myself to look for joyful surprises.
Keeping a glow book or a joy-journal is something I would highly recommend if you find yourself a little rusty at recognizing the joy-gifts that come your way. You don't have to share it with someone else. The very experience of recording the miscellaneous "blesslets" you encounter in the course of a dayfrom the gold shaft of morning sun to the softness of your blanket at nightwill build your receptivity and awareness. Once you begin looking, you may be surprised to discover just how much joy your world has to offer.
Be a Blessing
If we are fortunate, we learn this strategy as children basking in the joy of our mother's smile as we present her with the gift of a lovingly plucked dandelion or a crumpled crayon portrait. We learn it as teenagers participating in service projects, as adults involved in church and community programs. We learn firsthand the joy-potential in serving others, and we color our own hearts joyful with every blessing we give out.
If these were lessons we didn't learn early, or if pain and disappointment has caused us to forget, we can still begin to add to the joy in our lives through little acts of serving. Think of it as giving perks to someone else as well as to yourself.
Here as in other areas of joy, small efforts can bring large cumulative rewards. Try holding your temper when the cashier makes a mistake and say something pleasant as you wait. Hold the door open an extra few seconds for a slow-moving person behind you. Read to a child. Send a check to a homeless shelter or volunteer to ladle soup.
It's all been said many times beforesow what you want to reap, do unto others as you would have them do to youbut it remains eternally true. We humans are set up in such a way that giving joy to others actually adds dabs of joy-color to our own hearts.
Developing a servant's heart, in fact, is such an important ingredient of joy that I want to discuss it more fully in an entire chapter of its own. For now, though, it's enough to recognize that your heart will grow steadily and dependably joyful as you make a point of sharing the joy by blessing others.
Pursue Your PassionOr Put Passion into Your Pursuit
If we are involved in doing what we were put on earth to do, a joyful heart is almost guaranteedeven in the midst of deepest difficulties. Consistent and durable joy is generated when we pursue a passion that is strong enough to carry us past pain, something so meaningful and absorbing that we can ignore unhappy circumstances.
I consider myself deeply fortunate to have discovered such a passion in my art. My work gives me deep pleasure and satisfaction; it provides me with a dependable joy-base. So does my family, the other joy-giving passion God has blessed me with. Like any family, we have our moments of difficulty and conflict. But loving each of them, being with them, building them upthese things are the collective source of my deepest joy.
Passion and joy, in other words, are intimately connected. If you find that durable joy is fading in your heart, you might do well to pay attention to your passions, your purposes, and your pursuits. Do you feel called to follow a direction that is not currently the focus of your life? If so, perhaps it's time to begin mapping out a strategy that enables you to pursue your calling.
At the same time, don't assume you can't be happy unless you're doing what you love most for a living. If that were true, only a tiny portion of the world's population would be eligible for joy! The truth is that deep, abiding joy is available to anyone who learns the secret of pursuing every task with energy and dedication, as though it were a calling.
In other words, if you are having trouble pursuing your passion, you can still find real happiness by putting passion into your current pursuits. Each of us can find our calling where we are, right now, if we only begin to see the higher purpose to our task. If your days are spent polishing floors, think of the lives that benefit from the cleanliness and order you are providing. If you teach children, focus on the generations of future families who will feel the impact of your efforts. The farmer provides nourishment, the builder gives shelter, the office worker offers assistance and solves problems for customers and fellow workers. The list is endless. Each of us, in our own way, has a high and unique calling on our lives, if our ears can only be opened to hear it.
The Book of Ecclesiastes advises us, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."
Writer Carolyn Huffman (and countless posters I've seen) puts it another way: "Bloom where you are."
Wherever it comes from, it's still sound counsel. Approach every day of your life with dedication, as though you were an ambassador of a better world, and even the most mundane tasks can be transformed into inspiring sources of joy.
Say No to the Nibblers
You know what nibblers are. Nibblers are the nagging little worries and frustrations that eat away at your happiness and steal your joy. They are the insecurities that pull down your spirits, the fears that grab at your confidence, the guilts and gottas that replace your enjoyment of life with an unnerving tension.
Not long ago I woke suddenly early one morning and found myself wrestling with a whole school of life-draining little nibblers. "What if the new business deal doesn't go through?" "I should spend more time with my kids." "I really blew it yesterday!" The little voices attacked when my defenses were down and were making serious inroads on my joy by the time I woke up enough to fight them.
But how do you fight the insidious little marauders? Nine times out of ten, I've found, you can do it by telling the truth!
That's because nibblers are really liars. They like to plague us with problems that aren't really problems, situations we've already taken care of, circumstances we can't do anything about. So I have found the best way to counter their fibs and prevarications is simply to call their bluff.
That's exactly what I did when the nibblers attacked that morning. I addressed them one by one and told them no:
"No, that's not a problem because my well-being doesn't depend on deals going through."
"No, that's not a problem because I make a point of spending as much time with my kids as possible."
"No, that's not a problem because I've already admitted I was wrong and done what I could to correct it."
Occasionally, of course, I will realize that a nibbler or a set of nibblers derives from a situation that really does require some action on my part. In cases like that, I can still answer them no by making a specific plan: "No, that's not going to be a problem because I'm going to do this to take care of it."
Saying no to the nibblers, in other words, is simply a matter of facing reality. The truth is that worrying about problemsas opposed to resolving themwill never do anything but drain your heart of its joyful color.
Cultivate Mindful Routine
By nature, I'm not a man who relishes routine. I tend to prefer unscheduled adventure to tried-and-true dailiness. But I learned long ago that I need routine in my lifeand that I have more freedom when my days can rely on a predictable rhythm.
I like to paint first thing in the morning, for instance. I usually take care of any necessary business in the afternoon. At lunchtime I take a break and enjoy a sandwich in the studio or at a nearby coffee shop. After lunch I read a chapter or two in an interesting book. At six, I make the one-minute commute from my studio to our house and seek out my girls for some family time. And unless something unforeseen happens, I do these things, joyfully, every day.
Such repeated and dependable activities anchor my days, providing a sense of stability. The planned flow of my schedule balances my life, checking my tendency to go overboard with either work or play. And a reliable routine frees me to be more creative because I don't have to decide what I should do next.
But I'm not talking about mindless routine. I'm not talking about doing things just because I've always done them or because someone else thinks my day should go a certain way. That's a rut, not a routine, and ruts are rarely joyful.
Though each of us has obligations and needful tasks we'd rather not do, a joy-giving routine is a mindful routineone that is deliberately chosen, fully embraced (even the dull parts!), and always flexible, subject to alteration.
I'm talking about taking deliberate charge of the various parts of one's day. For example, I remember clearly the jolt of joy I received when I realized I didn't have to follow the typical "exercise in the morning" routine. Eager to keep in shape, I had resolved to start every day with a vigorous run around our neighborhood. But then I would wake in the morning with my creative jets firing. Even as I laced my jogging shoes, I was dying to get in the studio and paint. Not surprisingly, my exercise commitment soon began to slip. I would skip a day, then another, until I was skipping more days than I jogged.
Then the revelation came. Instead of plodding on with a routine that wasn't working or throwing my routine out the window, I decided to make my routine fit my life. Now I go to work first thing in the morning. Then, after an hour or two at the easel, I stretch my muscles, lace up my shoes, and begin my neighborhood jog. The exercise and the change of scenery gives me the zest I need for the rest of my dayand the dependable rhythm of mindful routine adds another coat of joy to my already shining heart.
Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime,
even under the most unpromising circumstances,
even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes. Frederick Buechner
Look for the Big Picture
Sometimes joy seems hard to come by, no matter how we've worked to build a durable heart-source of happiness. When disappointment and fear and confusion descend, it can be hard to discern the color of joy in our lives. That's when it helps to step back and look for the big picture, the traceable pattern in the tangle of events and emotions, and the blessing that often wears the disguise of suffering.
This lesson pressed itself most powerfully upon me in the early years of my marriage, when my wife began looking for a job in her field of nursing. Funds were tight. I was just beginning to sell my paintings, and we desperately needed her income as well as mine. But the only job available to her at the time was an all-night shift that lasted from seven o'clock at night until seven the next morning. Because we are both morning people and outdoor enthusiasts, the prospect of Nanette's being employed in this manner sounded dreary indeed.
Somehow, though, God gave us the grace to step back and see the possibilities in what looked like a sentence of gloom. We reminded ourselves that this would only be a temporary situation, and we made the conscious decision to treat it as an adventure by becoming temporarily nocturnal.
I shifted my schedule to match Nanette's, and I soon found I was able to work with great energy and concentration during those quiet evening hours. We slept days, with the help of earplugs and window blinds, and we spent Nanette's "days off," which were really nights off, by exploring the world of nighttimeenjoying moonlit bike rides, shopping at the all-night supermarket, and generally observing a great city at rest.
Because we chose to look at the big picture, this potentially unpleasant phase of our lives turned out to be an enjoyable one. As a bonus, now that we have returned to daytime living, Nanette and I find more joy in mornings than we ever did before.
I try to remember that lesson now whenever unexpected challenges seem to dull my sense of inner joy. I tell myself that even the phases of my life that were different than I would have chosen have turned out to be blessings in disguise, so I can realistically expect to find something good in any current difficulties as well. In the end, maintaining that kind of big-picture perspective will help keep the joy-color of my life from being extinguished by externals.
The Life of Things
Behind the big picture of our life is another, unseen, picture. This is not life in its perceivable detail, but life in its flowing wonder, shimmering with iridescent beauty, pulsing with an inner will, constantly renewing itself with goodness despite the surface imperfections. This is lifeas mysterious as a free-floating vapor that shrouds the hillsides, as solid as the earth beneath us.
Surely this is exactly the kind of life-affirming joy view that William Wordsworth meant when he wrote, in his famous "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,"
...With an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
Seeing, if only in brief glimpses, this powerful and mysterious life force causes the color of your heart to be more than a passive characteristic. The yellow chair's appearance might be altered by changing light, but the paint will have its say as well. A yellow chair in sun or shadow looks different than a blue one would. The landscape around the chair looks different, too, for the golden hue influences its surroundings. And the color of a joy-filled heart has even more power than the yellow of a chair, for joy in a life is a source of light unto itself.
The color within us, in other words, can color the world around us. When my attitude shines with durable joy, the world around me also seems to glow golden.
Even in the shadows, I can discern the gleam of goodness and possibility.
Even in the dark, I know I can always find my way.
My life shines with God's radiant blessings when my heart is the color of joy.