Leading up to the third Sunday of Advent this year, I kept thinking about the 2006 movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The movie stars Will Smith as Chris Gardner, an aspiring entrepreneur and sales person who gets an opportunity to do an unpaid stockbroker internship with Dean Witter. His marriage ends (in part because of the instability resulting from his business ventures and the unpaid internship) and he becomes a single father. The financial crisis that ensues from the unpaid internship forces him and his son into homelessness, moving from hotel to hotel, shelter to shelter, and sometimes even staying overnight in subway station bathrooms.
The internship year is a roller coaster of disasters, unexpected blessings, incredibly hard work, and fatherly care and devotion to his son. At the very end (I won’t spoil all the details in case you haven’t seen it), Will Smith’s voice-over for Gardner in a moment of elation says, “And this is happiness.”
Although the word choice and voice-over are perfect for the movie’s drama, I would argue that what Gardner is experiencing is actually joy. We often use “happiness” and “joy” interchangeably, but as we move through the thi week of Advent, I think it’s helpful to explore the differences between them.
Happiness is often something that glosses over or even numbs unpleasant emotions — suffering, loss, challenge and hardship. It might take the form of a decadent sweet, or a glass of wine, or binge watching a show that elevates our mood. The feeling is usually fleeting, and we soon begin to look for our next happiness fix. Joy, on the other hand, happens amidst the discomfort of the challenge and hardship, and is held in tension with tougher experiences. Joy doesn’t gloss over — but appears alongside — loss, grief, suffering and hardship.
In Advent, Christians meditate on joy about ten days prior to the actual Christmas celebration. In the Northern Hemisphere, this coincides with some of the longest, darkest days of winter. On that dark third Sunday of Advent, Christians light two purple or blue candles for hope and peace and one pink candle, symbolizing joy. The candles are a reminder of God’s enduring presence amidst struggle and strife, pain and loss, injustice and violence. We may not be able to feel joyful about everything that happens to us, but we can feel joy even in the most difficult moments. Joy is not reserved for the big celebrations, like the climax of the movie or Christmas Day, but is as close as our breath as we maneuver the mundane, the difficult, the unpleasant and the painful.
Try this simple breath of joy practice and then feel into where and how joy lands in your body. Explore what other emotions, thoughts or physical sensations arise along with it.
Looking ahead, take just 30 minutes to experience Love in the final practice in my Mindful Advent series at 8 p.m. ET, Sunday, Dec. 20. These practices are held via Zoom and are free, but please register to get the link. Feel free to bring your own candles!
I am hosting two more events the week between Christmas and New Years for community building, fun and renewal! Join me for my In-Betweener Happy Hour and Movie Watch from 6-9 PM ET Dec. 29. And please register soon for the popular Releasing 2020 Yoga/Meditation event, which is 1-3 p.m. ET, Dec. 31 — a fantastic opportunity to release what you no longer want from 2020, carry forward what you’ve learned and welcome what is to come in 2021. Spaces are limited, so sign up today!