It is almost automatic to wish friends, family, even strangers “peace and joy” at this time of year. These conditions (for they are more than fleeting emotions) are universally regarded as among the most desirable things in the world. More than just a Hallmark greeting, even the Bible repeatedly refers to these as the ultimate blessings in life (i.e., see Romans 14:17: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.”). But what do we mean when we casually toss out these well wishes?
Both peace and joy are inner, subjective, happy, states of being. Arguably, they are also mutually-reinforcing. To be at peace is to feel free from fear, anxiety, and need. Surely in such a state it is easier to experience joy, a sense of deep delight (as distinct from pleasure, which is a more superficial and ephemeral sensation). Likewise, when basking in bliss, one’s troubles may seem to melt away, ushering in inner peace.
I am a cheerful optimist by nature, so happiness tends to come easily to me. That is not to say I am always in a good mood, but I can easily access happiness. True joy, however, cannot consistently be created just by hosting a party or taking a vacation. Peace is even more difficult to actively pursue, since often the harder I work for it (by going for a walk, meditating, journaling, etc.) the more elusive it becomes. There’s nothing like stepping out for a quiet walk to get my mind swirling with to-do lists and plans.
Looking back on 2016, it was an incredibly joy-full year. The reason is simple: my children bring me more joy than I ever could have imagined. So much so that I cannot help but wonder if or how I felt joy before becoming a parent.
When I ask my son what he wants to do after dinner and he says he’d like to put on music and costumes and dance, I am amused. But when he pulls on a tutu, ties on a cape, and lowers the lid on his knight’s helmet to prance gleefully around our living room, his joy is inescapably contagious. While I am generally reluctant to encourage my children to play with their food, my daughter’s delight in “hiding” her meatballs under spaghetti before dramatically “revealing” them over and over again makes my stomach ache with laughter. Children seem much better at accessing joy, and I am grateful that my kids are so generous in sharing their joy with me.
At the same time, as I have written at length in a past post, parenting has decidedly reduced my ability to achieve peace. Each phase of my children’s lives seems to bring new anxieties, and I simply do not have the information or tools to address them all. Moreover, I started this blog more than three years ago because I was struggling to stay true to my own passions and purpose after becoming a mother, and I do not feel any closer to that objective today. I am constantly torn between my current job, my future aspirations, and the immediate needs of my family.
For all their ceaseless activity, my children seem to have a better handle on inner peace than I do. They do not yet deploy stress-reduction techniques to find their calm; instead, they are simply drawn to activities, places, and people who make them feel secure and serene. My son loves yoga, in part because he seems to enjoy the focus required to make his body conform to a given pose. My daughter will sit intensely with a book, deciphering the pictures and creating her own story. They will both stay incredibly still to observe a deer grazing in our yard.
My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to allow my children to share their peace with me. Instead of putting on a yoga video so I can make dinner, I will join my son in his practice. I will not always read books to my daughter, as if there is only a single story to be told and the sooner it is said the sooner I can get on to something else. Instead, I will sit with her quietly and let her tell me what she sees. I will forgo the photo of the visiting deer to be with my children in admiring it.
I do not need to wish my children joy and peace for the year to come. They will seek these things independently, organically, and unconsciously. My goal is only to follow their lead.
I hope that you have a path to peace and joy that you can follow in 2017 and beyond. Happy New Year!