Why I love my cat…

…and other things this new joy message makes me think about

Josie Laur, Copy Editor
Originally published December 9, 2020

Cartoon by Sam Rainville

Cartoon by Sam Rainville

As the Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us, joy (noun), is a “source or cause of delight.” I am not the first to make the observation that delight has been missing from a lot of our lives these days.

When I first saw the agenda for the Strong Start week, I couldn’t help but notice the Wednesday schedule, which told us that we would “engage in values work, think about intangible joy, and learn technology.”

Hah, I thought, amused. Think about intangible joy.

Because what does that mean, right? Nothing, really, if we’re only sitting around thinking about something that is—by definition—impossible to grasp. In the end, I had other start-of-school things on my mind and, for the moment, I was happy to forget about the plan for Wednesday.

Turns out, I didn’t actually forget about it. For one reason or another—laughing with a friend about intangible joy, listening to a teacher or two mention it—I found myself thinking that maybe there was more to the whole joy thing than I first thought.

The thing is, the world is in a bad place right now. There’s progress and change happening, but there’s also political cacophony, educational uncertainty and oh, yeah, the global pandemic. We’ve all essentially been in crisis mode for six months, and the human body just isn’t equipped to handle that much stress.

Looking at it from that perspective, I realized that the reason I was so quick to dismiss the initial message is because “joy” seems like such an intense word—can’t I just be, like, happy? Content? Mildly pleased?

In a way (my continued realization went), those emotions actually are all facets of “joy.” The way I see it, a person, place, or thing (in general: a noun) that makes you feel good and warm and makes you smile is a noun that is important and valuable. As Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, poet, spiritual leader and peace activist says, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

For me, seeing my cat come visit me during morning classes makes things more okay, whether I realize it or not. When I’m petting her and she purrs back at me, my thoughts aren’t on the pandemic or the presidential debates or anything else. Instead, I’m just there, in the moment, petting my cat.

So, yes, the intangible joy message is silly and makes me roll my eyes a little. Still, I’ve come to the conclusion that during a bananas situation like the world right now, it’s important to find something that makes you happy, whatever that might be.