Advent Series: Joy
By Haeon Kang

Joy. It doesn’t feel like the norm in our culture. According to the World Health Organization, 280 million people globally have depression, and depression is a leading cause of disability. Everyone knows someone who has struggled with depression or has struggled with depression themselves. Sadness, apathy, emptiness, and/or general suffering are all common to the current human experience. Everyone knows what it feels like to be down, to feel meaningless, to know suffering.

But what about joy? Are people familiar with joy?

With Christmas just around the corner, we see cards on the shelves of nearly every store—and so many of them flaunt the word “joy.” But do people really know what that means? Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, do people take the time to experience the heavenly gift that is joy?

In my experience, people can’t even remember the last time they were happy, never mind joyful. Our consumerist culture thrives on unhappiness, selling us hordes of things that promise to fulfill us, bring us peace, and give us that ever-elusive joy so many hunt for. Yet many thousands of dollars later, we’re still missing it. We’re generally unhappy and distract ourselves from this fact in the pursuit of what we lack.

So how do we experience joy? How do we reclaim this part of being human?

Joy has been elusive for me, as it is for most people. As someone who has suffered from clinical depression for most of her life, it’s been a challenge to experience joy in any capacity.

However, despite the odds, I actually live quite a joyful life. I’m generally happy, content, and delighted with life. I love being alive. Every day I am grateful that I get to live out another day.

So what’s my secret?

The secret to joy is multifaceted with a shining light in the middle that fuels it all. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll divide joy into three parts. I’ll begin with the outermost parts and work my way into the core of joy.

Part of having a joyful life is living well, to the best of your ability, so that you create an environment that is hospitable to joy. That means cultivating life-giving relationships, eating well, exercising, sleeping consistently, having or creating meaning for your life, maintaining a healthy physical space for you to live in, practicing gratitude, and growing in every capacity—mentally, emotionally, intellectually, physically, etc. You don’t have to do all these things perfectly, but striving to reach “good enough” is integral.

When I was in the darkest depths of depression, taking ownership of my well-being in all these ways was the turning point. Once I began cultivating the life I wanted, the flickers of light I saw occasionally began to elongate and become more predictable. I was creating a crucible, a hospitable environment, for joy to grow and flourish.

In addition to creating a hospitable environment for joy, you have to notice when moments of joy happen. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter that you’ve created an environment for joy to thrive in. If you don’t notice when it’s happening, you’re not experiencing it.

In this regard, gratitude is incredibly important, because it attunes us to the good things in our lives. It makes us pause to notice things. Creating a record of the joyful moments we experience every day can further compound our joy, creating joy momentum. This momentum can carry us through difficult times.

Finally, the core of joy is existential. The foundation of joy is, you guessed it, God! God is the Joy-Giver. He is the reason we are able to experience and receive joy at all.

If we miss this nucleus of joy, it doesn’t matter whether we’re taking care of ourselves to the best of our ability or noticing the good things. Those things won’t have meaning without the Source of our existence. Joy emanates from God’s laughter and delight in us, and from His creation. Our relationship with love drives out fear, which is the ultimate joy-killer. Love is the Source of the hospitable environment for joy. Love is the eyes through which we are able to notice the good gifts we are daily given. God is the “why” of joy, giving ultimate meaning to both our joy and sorrow.

Joy is not a rare beast eluding our pursuit. It’s a normal part of the human experience, something God built into being human.

This Christmas season, lean into joy and cultivate it. Remind yourself that you can access joy in Christ and that God has gifted you the experience of joy as part of your heavenly inheritance. My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you will enter the new year with joy in your heart and that this joy will remain constant with you throughout 2024.

About this Contributor:

Haeon Kang

Haeon Kang is a Project Manager with Word Alive Press. She has a master's degree in theology and loves to read, create art, and play with her dog and bird during her down time.

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