Sunday, August 29, 2010

The elusive emotion. Sunday, August 29, 2010.

Joy. noun \ˈjȯi\ 1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: delight. – Webster’s Dictionary

Have you ever watched a toddler play with bubbles? Then you have seen pure joy.

A child watches as you dip the wand into the soapy fluid. Then you blow, and the bubbles, each with its own rainbow, float into the air. Her eyes grow wide with amazement, and she reaches out to touch one. Pop! She giggles and chases another. As you blow again, the bubbles surround her, and she appears to be overwhelmed by happiness.

When you attempted suicide, you almost certainly thought that you would never feel joy again. Whether your problem was situational, biochemical or both, joy was elusive. It was for other people, not you. Never you. Your future would be devoid of joy, and so it followed there was nothing to look forward to.

Scientists disagree about the capacity of animals to feel emotions. Recent studies suggest that they do. If you’ve rubbed a dog’s belly or held a purring cat on your lap, you probably believe that they experience happiness. But so far as we know, we are the only animals that can appreciate humor, anticipate enjoyable things in the future or even have an orgasm.

The road back from a suicide attempt has plenty of peaks and valleys. The situation you were in may or may not change for the better. Medications might or might not help. But the thing you covet the most – the thing that will tell you you’re “cured” – is joy. When will it come? How long do you have to wait for that glorious day when the sun rises, the birds sing, and you feel pure, unbridled joy?

Perhaps our problem is in the definition. I wonder if those of us who struggle with depression place the bar too high. Because if we’re waiting for that day when we have not a care in the world, when everything is perfect and we feel elated, we might be in waiting mode permanently. Life is complex. Challenges are always around the corner. There will always be something to worry about.

But imagine that toddler again. She’s not concerned about where her next meal is coming from. She’s not worrying that she’ll have a nightmare that night. Her attention is only on the bubbles – the beautiful, translucent little miracles floating out of the magic wand. And they are bringing her joy.

Maybe we need to focus on those small, simple moments, like when we notice a pretty flower or chuckle at a clever commercial. Maybe joy isn’t so elusive. Maybe it’s right there waiting for us, and we haven’t noticed.

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