How do we find a healthy balance between joy and sorrow? Rabbi Rami explores the concept of microjoys, as inspired by author and podcast guest Cyndie Spiegel.
Are you happy?
I hope your answer to this question is “yes.” Mine is “no.”
It isn’t that I’m unhappy; it’s only that when the question is put to me, I don’t find myself feeling anything in particular. I’m not happy or sad, joyous or depressed—I just am. If you ask me if I’ve been happy lately, I will say “yes.” And if you ask me if I’ve been sad lately, I will say “yes.” I’ve been both, but mostly I’m neither.
I was thinking about this while I read Cyndie Spiegel’s Microjoys: Finding Hope (Especially) When Life is Not Okay, in preparation for our conversation on the Spirituality + Health Podcast.
I like the idea of experiencing microjoys better than the idea of being happy. Being happy implies something longer lasting; “micro” implies something fleeting. That’s how I experience things: whatever it is, it’s gone almost as soon as I notice it. That is true of sorrows as well as joys. Maybe Ms. Spiegel will write a sequel: Microsad: Allowing for Despair When Life is Pretty Much Okay.
What really struck me about her book, however, is her linking of microjoys with hope. Hope as I understand it speaks to the future, whereas microjoys speak to the present. Why do I need hope if I have microjoys?
According to Merriam-Webster, hope means “to want something to happen or to be true.” If that is the meaning of “hope,” how does one find hope? It seems to me that hope isn’t a thing you find but a desire you nourish.
I certainly nourish a variety of hopes, but I do this unconsciously. When I think about it, when I notice I am indulging in hope, I try to divest myself of hope, and opt for reality instead. If I understand Cyndie Spiegel correctly, microjoys are concrete facts whereas hope deals with fiction one wishes to be fact.
You might argue that the hope triggered by our experience of microjoys is the hope that life will turn out okay in the end. But it doesn’t. In the end, life ends and death happens. Not okay. The real genius of microjoys is that it removes the need for things to be okay and allows things to be just as they are: a mix of joy and sorrow, okay and not okay. Learning how to experience microjoys allows you to learn how to experience microsorrows as well. And experiencing both is what it is to live fully and well.
Too many of us have bought into the notion that joy is better than sorrow, okay is better than not okay, light is better than dark, sweet is better than sour, and life is better than death. And because we label one better than the other, we set ourselves the task of living with the better and without the other. This leaves us in a state of exhaustion.
The truth is that joy goes with sorrow, okay goes with not okay, light goes with dark, sweet goes with sour, and life goes with death. And because everything goes with everything else, we can relax and experience it all. This, I think, is the deepest message of microjoys.
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.