You and I are hungry for joy.
The 4 minute video below about Nick Vujicic we introduced in the last post illustrates how there is a form of happiness that is independent of our circumstances. Nick in this video has certainly experienced it.
There is a deep desire in our hearts for joy. At the same time there is also in our hearts a deep lack of joy that creates an intense internal longing. As C.S. Lewis says,
“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.”
The truth is, I would argue, all of us are on a life-long quest for lasting fulfilment and joy. We may or may not recognise it, but there would appear to be a hunger that is very deep in the human soul for this. That hunger makes us incredibly fragile and vulnerable.
It is almost like we are in a no-win situation. Joy can be seen as an ache for the future (unlike nostalgia which is an ache for the past), but it is actually experienced in the here and now. And yet longing for joy, is actually more satisfying than anything I can get in this life.
I have talked about my own and others’ personal experience of this in terms of growing up between two cultures (see the 15 minute video Just As I Am and also the 9 minute video Third Culture Kids and the Search for Home).
We express this search for joy in the comment of longing: “If only _____” (you fill in the blank). Whatever that blank is, hunger and longing for it can grow to become all consuming. The longing can be so intense that even having the desire realised still leaves you with still more longing.
Another one of my early recollections of this longing goes back to the days of being a football fan!
As a 7 year old boy I was mesmerised by football and a particular team: Leeds United. They captured my imagination and I was full of joyful expectation at their potential to go far and win national trophies and championships. However, their surprise loss in an F.A. Cup Final in 1973 to a relatively minor team, Sunderland rocked my 7 year old world in a way that I can remember to this day. Their on-going flirtation with major football success and never quite achieving it in subsequent years felt to my young mind like I was dying a hundred deaths.
The international matches of the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 when England failed to qualify on 2 successive occasions made me switch off all interest in football at the time. It was just too painful to deal with! Writing about it now seems almost comical, but those feelings were real.
When I trained as a psychiatrist I was reminded about the intensity of these feelings coming across some young men in their teens and early 20s who would deliberately harm themselves when their favourite team lost a match. Their longing for joy was so wrapped up in their football team that when their team lost they literally also lost any reason to go on living.
Those experiences made me realise how when the human heart locks onto something for its daily joy, there is an intense all-consuming kind of suction. You don’t realise how powerful this suction is until something goes wrong. There is this internal collapsing of hope within oneself – like an implosion. Our hearts literally become black holes that cannot be filled by anything in this life.
As we get older we find more ‘adult’ ways to deal with our longings. Those longings are just as real, but we become better at hiding how intense those longings are from ourselves and other people. But those longings are still there. We will continue to explore this area, but I close with the following quote from C. S. Lewis well worth pondering over:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
What are your reflections on this intense human search for joy that nothing in this world seems to fulfil?