Despite pervasive images of the smiling Buddha, the practice and teachings of Buddhism often have a reputation of being rather more somber than joyful. With so much emphasis on “suffering and the end of suffering” there’s not much airtime for happiness and joy. Some practitioners may even think that expressing those qualities is un-Buddhist.
As one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, joy is not only a fruit of awakening but also a prerequisite. Joy creates a spaciousness in the mind that allows us to hold the suffering we experience inside us and around us without becoming overwhelmed, without collapsing into helplessness or despair. It brings inspiration and vitality and allows us to respond wisely to suffering with more wisdom and compassion. Profound understanding of suffering does not preclude awakening to joy.
Joy has many different flavors. It might overflow from us in song or dance, or it might gently arise as a smile or a sense of inner fullness. Joy is not something we have to manufacture. It is already in us when we come into the world, as we can see in the natural delight and exuberance of a healthy baby. We need only release the layers of contraction and fear that keep us from it.
This doesn’t mean disregarding suffering. But it does mean not overlooking happiness and joy. With so much fear and sadness in the world, it’s healthy to let our hearts delight in the blessings of life. In waking up it’s important to remember that in addition to the 10,000 sorrows, there are also the 10,000 joys.
When we open a channel to the wellspring of joy inside the well-being that flow through us becomes more than a gift to ourselves. Our own ease and inner peace inspires spaciousness, perspective, courage and goodness in the hearts of others. May you be happy and awaken joy in yourself and all those you meet.