Friday, 24 December 2010

Ode to Joy

Today I’m thinking about joy.  Not just getting by or feeling OK. Not even just contentment or wellbeing. Joy.  The thoughts and feelings we have at those moments when life is excellent, when everything is fine and exactly as we would wish it to be.  

My thoughts of joy are sparked in part by Christmas; but even more by the birth of Frank, my latest grandchild; and by the recovery of my brother Steve from a major operation.

We doctors concentrate too much on curing sadness. We pay too little attention to the positive side of life. Helping people out of the depths of their misery is good, but not good enough. We leave people stranded half way. We try to help people reduce their pangs of grief and move out of range of their personal whirlwinds, without offering anywhere better to go.  Rarely do we encourage our patients to travel any further, to look around and discover places where they can smile and laugh, where life can be rewarding and inspirational.
Without the idea of joy, or a direction of travel towards positive emotions, we are operating with one hand tied behind our backs when we try to encourage patients to make better decisions, solve their problems and rearrange their social behaviours.

Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist based in North Carolina, explains how we can use joy and other positive emotions to broaden and build our well-being and personal resilience. Joy sparks the urge to play. Interest sparks the urge to explore. Contentment sparks the urge to savour and integrate. And love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships. Broadening our minds in these ways, through play, exploring, savouring or integrating, promotes discovery of new and creative actions, ideas and social networks. These in turn build up our personal resources and provide lasting reserves which we can draw on if life gets difficult again.

We don’t just have to wait for joy to come along and surprise us. We can go looking for it.

Music is one big route into joy. For me Beethoven does joy in music better than anyone else I know. One of the very best moments of my life was being in a choir singing the Ode to Joy in his Choral Symphony.  Here is a link to another version (technically much better than ours!)

For sheer ebullient, effervescent joy, bubbling over with brilliance, I can think of nothing better.  This one is to celebrate the birth of my grandson Frank.

If I’m looking for quiet reflective joy, Ludwig van B helps me out again.  I love his Heileger Dankgesang, the third movement of his string quartet opus 132. He composed this after recovering from a very serious illness, when he wasn’t at all sure that he would make it. So this one is for my brother Steve.  

Have a look at  You need to scroll down to find the music itself. This link also gives a delightful talk about illness and creativity.

Or if it’s bringing out the joy to be found in ordinary everyday living, for me there’s nothing to beat Van Morrison’s Coney Island . Here’s a link: Van M is famously grumpy, but sometimes, just sometimes, he gets it absolutely right.

What about you?  What brings you joy?  Does it catch you by surprise, or can you go and find it? How do you celebrate it?


  1. I am not alone
    Like many people all around the world,
    l struggle deeply this time of the year.
    Personal sorrow, sadness, l allow myself to be "stuck"for awhile it comfort's me.
    I geniunely believe l understand other people's hurt so much more,Truly this help's me too in mine.
    For now l take a back seat, slip away watch listen to all the JOY'S of other people, friend's
    expirence of life and christmas
    "Let it be"
    Best wishes Chris and the family and animals.x

  2. Have just been to "confest" a hippy festival, which is all about living in the now, love and finding joy through expression and play, so your blog really resonates with my recent experience.

    Hope you and yours are joyful at the moment and into the new year.


  3. I am a family man . . . My wife and childen bring me great joy.

    I support disabled adults . . . My relatiosnhip with Sean a man with Downs brings me untold joy.

    Van, Bob, Joni, Tom, Lenorad, Neil . . . Have given me joy for the last twenty years.

    I am a teacher . . . The beauty of children brings out the 'Youth of a Thousand Summers' in me and fills me with a deep sense of eternal joy.

    The sun setting . . . The rain . . . Morality . . . Clear skys . . . Cloudy skies . . . The birds singing. . . Nice food . . . Cold beer . . . Lying in until the mid-morning . . . All bring me joy.

    I always count my blessings.