Missing in our moment – awaiting rediscovery in 2022 – is what French call “joie de vivre.” Piled high with troubles, we stagger, imagine staggering is inevitable, somehow our destiny. We forget goodness abounds, blessings, opportunities to give, live, laugh, something called “joy of living.” Time to find it.
What is it? Where is it? How do we reacquire it after endless buffeting by crosswinds and contrary currents, rough-and-tumble dysfunction, disinterest in affection, connection, and a conditioned default to fear, griping, judgment, and recrimination? Where is “joy of living” hidden?
Intellectually and spiritually, we know the obvious sources, reaffirming joy in giving, faith and God’s goodness, the aspiration of thoughtful, feeling humans – when we slow down – to live what Cicero and St. Paul called “the good life,” different meanings but centered on “goodness.”
More simply, the idea of “joie de vivre,” woven into American character if not quite like the French, is finding happiness in each day, between our work, faith, rest, and play.
And what is this elusive “daily happiness,” how do we get it back, put worries away, fend off clatter-trap media, social media, contending politics, and modern frustrations – even close to home? The answer is easier than it seems if we will pause to recall.
Think about the old Peanuts cartoon, how Snoopy – come what may – found joy in each day, celebrated life, sometimes with others, sometimes alone, but never missing the joy about him.
Remember his “happy dance?” How a simple, falling leaf became his twirling, hands out dance partner, a reason to smile, ending in “thank you for the dance.” Or light music, or nothing at all?
This was no accident, not childish humor, not frivolous, inconsequential, or a Charles Schultz toss-off. Schultz suffered losses, disappointments, and failures. Snoopy was his tonic, and ours. Schultz was saying, “been there – now, remember the power of smiling, dancing, resilience, celebration, connection!”
While some trivialize the idea and others cheapen it – tying it to Shakespeare’s Falstaff, there is something regenerative, necessary – in remembering the “joy of living.” If you think about it, this is what keeps bounce in your step, keeps you motivated, has kept good cheer alive for ages.
In the French novel by that name, a work of Emile Zola, a girl named Pauline loses her parents, must live with others. Her inheritance stolen, she is surrounded by sick, self-absorbed, sad-sack characters. Yet – she is happy in herself, an undeterred optimist. Buffeted, she does not change.
Likewise, think about those who lift others – and why – in our own day, in the past century. From their love of life, we can learn a lot. In the darkest days of World War II, bad news swamping the gunnels, Churchill never stopped bailing. He would end nights with a smile, telling his wife Clementine, “bother the world,” go to sleep, awake fresh for the fight at dawn.
Ronald Reagan and Colin Powell were similar, ready smiles, glad for each day. Likewise, Olympic Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton, who came from nothing, won everything, did it again, beating cancer, meets life – even today – with an irrepressible, hallmark smile and laugh.
How do we learn to revel, find our center, put worry and negativity behind us, cultivate a garden of cheer, harvest it daily? How do we meet each dawn, whatever else drags, with the notion that more deserves celebrating, warrants a little happy dance and smile than fussing and crying over?
The answer may be right in front of us. Taking stock of our blessings, life’s amusing ironies, the undefined nature of each day, endless possibilities – we need only choose to fly our doghouse.
We can hang heads, grouse about the state of the world, fill up with pointless babble, or make the new year something fresh by force of will. We can put on happy feet, focus on what matters and lifts us, find cheer in friends like Snoopy and Woodstock, whose wisdom and wonder educate.
Finding it, understanding it, and rollicking in “joie de vivre,” begins with resolve. As surely as these words fit the page, goodness abounds, with blessings, opportunities to give, live, and laugh. Ready for taking is the “joy of living,” if we look for it – in a falling leaf, in 2022, awaiting you.