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Reflections on joy


The Rev’d Andrew Schmidt reflects on the insights decluttering brought him and on the difference between happiness and joy

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Does it spark joy?

I am not sure if you have heard of the KonMari method of decluttering and tidying. It comes from Marie Kondo, a TIME Magazine ‘100 Most Influential People’ alumnus, who suggests that we ask the question ‘Does it spark joy?’ when deciding whether to keep or throw away a possession.

I first came across the question when I saw a post about a person who tossed away all their bills because they did not spark joy. It was obviously a tongue in cheek criticism of the method. I mention this for two reasons.

The first is about tidying and clearing out, the focus of this little reflection. I am a stereotypical male in that I do not have a particularly large wardrobe, and am happy to wear clothes long past their ‘best by’ date, but I knew I had more attire than I needed.

So, my closet was targeted for a clean out. In defence of the rest of the family, they had already done theirs. Very quickly I managed to fill a large black garbage bag with clothing, and I learnt some things.

  1. Unless I plan on turning the backyard into a small hobby farm, I probably don’t need 15 gardening shirts.
  2. A rag is not a gardening shirt if it won’t protect you from the sun.
  3. Suits that I could wear when I was barely in my 20s are probably no longer helpful given one too many good meals and not enough exercise.
  4. Just because it was fashionable in the 90s, doesn’t mean it is still a good look.

And, most importantly:

  1. Not only did I have more than I needed, I had more than I wanted, and more than I should have.

For me decluttering and tidying became an exercise in reminding myself of the simple prayer, ‘Lord help me to live more simply, that others may simply live.’

Yes, I could have made this an article about wage slavery and terrible working conditions, but in my experience, sometimes you need to bring it closer to home to realise that you are being controlled by stuff, rather than stuff being a resource for living richly with depth in a global community.

The Sunday School definition of joy

Do you remember the Sunday School definition of joy: ‘Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between’? I want to write a little about joy, and about how that description might not be as shallow as it may first seem. I also want to speak about anxiety, which by my understanding, is dominated by the question, ‘what might go wrong?’

I think anxiety is the opposite of joy. Let me explain.

I reflected above on my experience of tidying up using a version of the KonMarie method, which asks the question, ‘Does it spark joy?’

I even mentioned a post about a person tossing away their bills because they did not ‘spark joy’.

For a lot of people there is an obsession with happiness. You can see it in advertising, in social media and on television. Happiness is the sensory experience that is tied to our brain chemistry, to the presence of reward chemicals that are released through social and sensory stimulus, and it can be quiet addictive.

Joy however is much more difficult to pinpoint, but the question gives us a clue. Can you imagine a time when you will be free of debt and can you imagine a world where interactions are marked with grace? Joy is that thing which uses the world around us to draw us into a future that is better, has deeper and richer relationships, and as such it is the opposite of anxiety, which is often fear of the unknown future. I know anxiety can be more complex than that, with many permutations and impacts, and so can joy.

Joy is about moving our focus on happiness to relationships and grace.

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