How I Found the True Meaning of Joy
Dear joy, this is my letter to you.
I wanted to tell you about my journey in finding you. It wasn’t easy that’s for sure.
I took many detours along the way but I don’t regret any of the steps I took. I learned a lot of lessons that they didn’t teach me in school so it was all worth it.
Hey, I’m just glad I finally know where to find you now.
When I was little, I didn’t know what you were. I smiled when I felt happy, like when I ate a popsicle in the summer or tried on a pretty new dress.
My lips would extend from ear to ear in the shape of a half-moon, my head would naturally tilt up as if an invisible hand had tugged gently on my ponytail, and my almond-shaped eyes would squint uncontrollably into two thin lines.
Whenever my face changed like this, there would a bubbling feeling in my chest as well, like the fizz when you crack open a can of soda. Sometimes the “fizz” was so strong that I would burst into a fit of laughter that made my tummy hurt.
Even though I couldn’t put the feeling into more eloquent words than “happy”, I knew I liked it.
Joy, for the longest time, I thought this feeling was you—just a fleeting “fizz” that would last a few moments, a day or two at the most. And then you would be gone until the next we meet.
You seemed to like to play hide-and-seek with me. And as I got older, you seemed to enjoy this game more and more. What once made my lips curl and my chest bubble with “fizz” no longer had the same effect on me every time.
Sometimes you would arrive unexpectedly like the time when my Dad showed up at our doorsteps months after he had left my mother and I for the first time with a big red bike for me by his side.
Other times when I thought you would be there, like when I bought candies with the 10 dollar coins my cousin and I secretly took from the money jar in our house, you stood me up.
Over time, I learned where to chase that bubbly “fizz”.
I found it in food. Greasy and salty things like chips were the best.
I found it in shopping. Cosmetics of various shapes and colours were my favourite.
I also found it in praises or looks of approval from others. A nod, a thumbs up, or words like “look how smart you are”.
Whenever I found this “fizz” in an aluminum foil bag, in another glittery lip gloss, or in someone else’s acknowledgment, joy, I thought I had found you.
Then there was a period of time when I couldn’t find you anywhere. Nothing really did the trick anymore.
And to tell you the truth, I didn’t care.
A big part me believed that I didn’t deserve you. Not when my life was such a mess with endless medical procedures and no promise of a cure. How could I allow myself to feel your presence when there were so much pain and disease inside my body?
No, I didn’t think it was possible or even right to have you in my life at a time like that.
An open letter to joy from someone who didn't always know where to find joy in her life.
Slowly, my body recovered, but a part of me was still missing. And I realized it was you. I missed you.
Again, I went to look for you in all the usual places—in the aisles of a grocery store, on the shelves of Sephora, or in the words of others. But it wasn’t the same.
I wasn’t satisfied with a fleeting feeling of “fizz” that came from other things or other people anymore.
I craved for something more permanent, something I could experience even if I ate nothing, bought nothing, and had nobody’s approval. Something I could hold onto even if my life fell completely apart again.
And I started to wonder, joy, if you could be more than what I thought you were.
I began reading books about you—books that described you in scientific terms written by experts who studied you, and books that showed you in a more personal light written by regular people just like me.
I watched interviews and listened to podcasts dedicated to you with all kinds of tips on where and how to look for you. I learned that I’d been looking for you in all the wrong places—in things and people outside of myself when all this time, you were already inside of me.
And all I ever needed to find you was gratitude.
Let me tell you, gratitude wasn’t something I was good at.
When I first learned that gratitude was the key to finding you, I had my doubts.
Really? If I wake up and feel thankful for the nice weather, the smooth traffic on my way to work, or the fact that I’m still breathing, I’m going to find you? The skeptic in me raised one eyebrow. But I was eager and willing to try anything to find the real you.
Although I thought it was kind of cheesy, I started to write down the good things in my life—anything and everything I could think of that I should be grateful for. The rainbow after a bout of rain, the warmth of a cinnamon bun, a good song on the radio. My friends, my family, and my love.
And it worked. Not right away of course, it took time.
At first, it felt like I was trying to loosen an old faucet in my mind just to get a few drops of gratitude. But day after day it became easier and easier, until the faucet turned all the way and gratitude came pouring out. And joy, that was when I finally saw the real you.
I know now that the real you is more than just a “fizz” in my chest that lasts for mere moments or days at best. You’re not a particular feeling I can put a finger on; you’re a state of being.
Instead of washing over me like a sudden and swift tide that had been triggered by forces outside of my control, you are a river that flows steadily within me. I know as long as I have gratitude, you will never run dry.
You’re in the sunlight that gives me awe, in the music that makes me dance, and in the love that fills my heart. You’re everywhere.
Joy, I’ve come a long way since the days when I thought I had found you at the end of a popsicle stick or in the folds of a new dress.
I’ve grown a lot since the time when I didn’t think I deserved you because my life was in pieces. I know now that you can exist even when I’m in pain—this I will remember.
Before I end this letter, I want to tell you that I am grateful for all the good things in my life no matter how small or big—and not just that awkward, forced feeling of “grateful” like how it was at the beginning. I am truly grateful.
This is not goodbye joy, because I know you’ll always be here with me. As long as I have gratitude, I have you.