Runcible Blog

sharing joy

What do you share in your relationships? What do you "bring to the table"? We're always sharing something, but we're probably not aware of it or particularly intentional about it. I want to consider this premise – on a basic level, a loving relationship hinges on each individual sharing his or her love for life itself. We meet each other in the mutual joy of existence, but how that joy manifests itself differs between individuals. With that in mind, how do we measure up to the ideal?

First, sharing implies giving, not receiving. So, the basis of loving is giving. One way to look at relationships is that we acknowledge each other's needs. In other words, I have various inherent needs that I try to communicate to another, and the other tries to provide what I need (or we meet somewhere in the middle). It's a transactional kind of support. But I would say that talking about needs has it backwards, if the basic act of loving is giving. A need is an expectation of receiving something, but I cannot control what somebody else gives me; I can only control what I give out and how I receive what's given (and fulfilling a "need" is like giving a gift from a gift registry). Incidentally, it's nonsensical to tell your partner, "in a relationship, I need to be forgiving toward you", in the sense of an expectation for the other person to do something. The response would be, "what's stopping you from offering forgiveness?" Most of the time, there's nothing coming from the other person to prevent you from being compassionate or thankful or sharing (some people are resistant to receiving those things, though...).

So, sharing is giving while needing is receiving, and since we can only control what we give, let's look at what we tend to give each other. Ask yourself, do I experience joy in my life? How? When? If so, then how am I able to share that joy with anyone I love? Although it sounds like a basic thing, I'll say off the bat that I suspect most people do not experience much joy in their lives, and they can't really be said to "love life". An easy example is our relationship to work. Many people hate their jobs or feel a lingering sense of dissatisfaction about it. If you spend 40 hours a week at a disempowering, soul crushing job, then that's a large portion of your time when you are not experiencing the joy of life. And how can you share joy, if you aren't experiencing it yourself? But make no mistake – we end up sharing something, regardless. We share our complaints and frustrations, our anxiety, discontent, and neuroses. We share a cloud of negativity. When we have emotional baggage from the past, we can end up inadvertently sharing it today. If our other half also feels similarly or carries baggage, then maybe we have a mutual agreement to listen and support each other's complaints. It can go some distance, but I'd say it's a dead end.

We seem to have an instinct to produce quality things, do valuable deeds, or have enriching experiences, and so if our careers offer no outlet for quality, we'll look elsewhere: to hobbies, art, music, etc. But it takes some discipline and reflection to figure out what's worthwhile. Again, do you know what's important to you? What brings you joy? If you work full time, you've got about 72 waking hours per week to discover and explore that-which-reveals-joy. And, apparently, since the average American watches 34 hours of TV, you're down to 38 waking hours (unless TV truly brings you joy, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say, I highly doubt it). I don't want to continue with the subtraction because it gets to be too depressing to think about. Suffice it to say, most of us are in a position that makes it difficult to touch the joy of living, in its many manifestations. What we end up sharing with each other is whatever we have on hand: scraps of something exciting or pleasurable, a memory from past joyful experiences, or just plain garbage and mundanity. Say it ain't so!

How, then, do we discover real joy? First, I'd say that what may often happen is that we look only outside ourselves for "joy sources". For instance, get a puppy! Puppies experience the joy of life nearly constantly, and they don't have the burden of dealing with pointy-haired bosses or difficult customers. They're pure and innocent, and if you spend time with a puppy, maybe some of that joy will rub off onto you. Similarly, you could have a child! If your life seems empty and drab, bring another being into the world and wonder at the miracle of life! That may bring you years of joy (at least until she becomes a teenager and hates you). A child shares joy because he hasn't yet lost touch with the source. These examples, within the context of a relationship, may allow you to share in something that rises far above the mundane crap which otherwise occupies your time. And yet...

Something is obviously missing when we live vicariously through puppies and babies. How can we get in touch with what is so basic and alive? How can we "produce" joy ourselves? And of course, how can we then share it with the ones we love? There are actually myriad ways, because life hasn't ceased. One expedient gateway is being in nature – the more unadulterated, the better. I think the experience resonates very deeply within us, as we catch a glimpse of remembering that we're not so removed from the time when we swung from the trees. For that matter, try swinging from trees! Come into communion with a tree, and joy will pervade. The more honest and uncontrived you can be, the more vulnerable and open you are to whatever-may-happen. You can see a deer across a field, and it just breaks your heart, takes your breath away. Maybe not always, and it doesn't have to be dramatic. But when the beauty of things-as-they-are becomes crushingly undeniable, you'll feel compelled to share it with others, somehow. Good luck with that! You may not be able to convey exactly what you felt, but what matters is that in the process, you manifest the original joy in an infectious way. The remarkable thing is that you can share it as much as possible, without diminishing it one iota...

It doesn't have to be all hippie-dippie back to the earth kind of stuff, either. You may encounter some piece of literature, poetry, art, music, or science that strikes your heart in just the right way that it actually transforms you. If that happens, how could you not share it? Have you ever heard some music that just perfectly blew you away (you know, like Herbie Hancock's Chameleon...) so much that you just want to run around playing it for whoever will listen? People might think you're crazy, and they're right!

You may meet somebody who appears as a role model, causing you to aspire to be more virtuous, intelligent, or caring. Your effort can be a source of joy and a way to share the joy you at first encountered. There's some aspect that you want to pass on to others.

Anyway, I don't want to write too many examples lest I become trapped in the words. The main point, I think, is that you give yourself the time and the silence to discover what is truly important, real, and perhaps right in front of your nose. And it could be the case that the most enriching experiences happen when you're on your own, discovering for yourself how amazing it is to be on this spinning rock flying 100,000mph around the sun! (And how amazing is it that we have eyes to see anything.)

If we can get in touch with that when we're alone, whether during productive activity or doing absolutely nothing, then we can bring something healthy to the table. We become simultaneous teacher and student, and we contribute to enriching the lives around us. When we share something that never runs dry, we can't worry about losing it.

Keeping in mind that in any relationship, all you can do is give, and you're giving something all the time whether or not you know it, what are you giving?