Thomas Aquinas has said "we do not speak of joy except when delight follows reason; and so we do not ascribe joy to irrational animals." In other words, joy is much more than an emotion or feeling. It is not whimsical or trite. Joy engages our minds and our hearts. I think it is one of the great virtues we humans can acquire; indeed it is a gift of the spiritual life.
In The One Minute Philosopher, Montague Brown, Ph.D. writes that to have joy is
to delight in the good. Joy involves thought as well as emotion. It is an appreciation or approval of something good along with a feeling of excitement. Joy is the opposite of sadness. In both joy and sadness, reason leads, and there is some rational explanation for the emotion.
Since joy involves thoughtful appreciation, it always has an objective component and a universal appeal. When I rejoice in something such as the birth of a child or an act of generosity the object of my joy is something I believe others would and should rejoice in, too. I can explain to others the reason for my joy, and I can expect that, when they understand the source of my joy, they will know and share the same joy.
We rejoice in many different good things. We rejoice in the beauty of nature and the beauty of artistic creations. We rejoice in the well-earned success—whether our own of that of a friends—for we understand the good things that success brings, as well as the virtue and effort required to achieve them.\
Dr. Brown wrote these words in 2001 but they speak to the performance and experience of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi on January 12, 2019 perfectly. Like 20 million other people, I caught sight of her floor routine thanks to social media. Indeed it's appeal is universal. In fact, I found it so compelling, I had to share it with my students the next day. I found the beauty in her artistic creation, and no one was surprised to see that it led to a perfect 10. Her "well-earned success" is a win not just for Ohashi, her teammates or for gymnastics, but for everyone to behold. And if that can't lead a person to prayer, I don't know what does.
I concluded class with a call to live the Joy of Christmastide all year long. I asked my students to look for examples of joy in everyday life. Where do they see it? How can we share that with others? Forgive my bias, but sports isn't a bad place to start. As Jason Gay in the WSJ writes
These instances are rare, but they’re really the reason why we watch sports, aren’t they? Sure, we come up with all kinds of rationalizations for our sports obsessions—tradition, regional loyalties, very bad bets on the Minnesota Vikings—but what truly keeps the audience coming back is the chance that every once in a while, you’ll see a radiant expression of human greatness and joy.Want joy? keep your eyes and ears open. Look for it and let it find you. Behold and pass it on. Give thanks to God for it's source and pray to grow in this gift. Happy New Year!
Photo CreditsTop image is in the WSJ article