Editors Column: Can’t Steal Joy

Gillian Scherz

There is a wonderful song by The Weepies with the line “can’t steal happiness,” and I’m sure you’ve also heard the phrase “happiness is a choice.” I was recently asked to describe what happiness means to me – in Russian, a language in which I’m anything but proficient. Using my limited vocabulary, I believe I said some cliché things like love, family, coffee and having a dog. And yes, those are valid sources of happiness, but the exercise got me thinking a little deeper about what it means to be truly happy.

First of all, is happiness really a choice? Do we have that level of control over our emotions?

In many cases, I would say yes. We cannot control the circumstances around us, but it is up to us how we interpret and respond to our surroundings. To steal a phrase from a friend, I would agree that happiness is simply contentment with our current state and surroundings. To some extent, that is a choice.

Last week, I broke my coffee maker, lost my on-campus job and humiliated myself in front of my class, which definitely makes for a justifiably bad day. But I didn’t want to waste the day being unhappy, so I told myself that none of those things were the end of the world and put a smile on, anyway.

Then there is the happiness that comes easily, and man, that is such a wonderful thing! Taking pleasure in the little things is something I really learned to do while abroad in London.

What history major wouldn’t be happy standing on top of where Anne Boleyn is buried or having a cappuccino outside the Coliseum in Rome on her 21st birthday? But I came to value just as much a glass of Irish cider with my friends, the smell of flowers blooming in Regent’s Park and the incredibly cheap and easy apricot chicken dish my roommate and I finally perfected for dinner.

Unfortunately, there comes a time when our strength and determination fails. We were reminded on Saturday that even in the death of an incredible friend and classmate, silver linings can be found if we look hard enough.

Yet, how many of us shed tears over the loss of our dear friend Victor Krivitski? Or have cried over a relationship gone wrong, the loss of a loved one or even just the stress of a few little things crashing down all at once? Ultimately, happiness is an emotion, and emotions are unstable. Even those of us with hearts of stone and frozen tear ducts are incapable of mastering our attitudes 100 percent, 24/7.

Enter joy. For many, happiness, some or most of the time, is enough. After all, that’s life. But for those of us who want more from life, begin the search for joy. Joy is different and deeper than happiness.

Merriam-Webster defines joy as “a source or cause of delight.” It is not caused by good fortune or our own efforts; it is the source of our happiness. Joy is what lies underneath our emotions, it is what lies within us and it is present despite outward turmoil or sadness. Joy goes beyond our feelings. A person can be temporarily lacking happiness but still have a profound sense of joy.

There have been many times over the last years when I have lacked happiness despite my best efforts – the death of my dog of 14 years, being betrayed by some close friends, questioning who I am, being homesick thanks to culture shock, the tangible pain of an undiagnosed stomach condition and most recently, the loss of Vic.

But somewhere buried in the corner of my heart, my joy has remained through all of this. Maybe some of you understand the joy I am talking about, and maybe I just sound crazy to many of you, because my joy comes from my faith in Christ. I have a faith that as­sures me, despite the circumstances of my life and regardless of all the mistakes I continue to make, that I can overcome anything life throws my way.

I know it sounds crazy, since statistically over half of self-professed Christians lose faith in college, while (as usual) I go against the grain because mine has been challenged but strengthened here. If others have such a sustaining, unconditional joy they find in something else, I’d be happy to hear of it, but I personally know of no other source of joy – believe me, I’ve looked – that never, ever fails.

Contact Gillian Scherz at [email protected].