On Happiness, Harmony, and Joy

[5 June 2019]

I am writing a slightly different sort of piece today as a response to the chain-letter-post that I was recently tagged in by my lovely friend Kristian. Please follow that link to check out her response and her blog. I am definitely a fan!

I am very excited to share a couple of quotations that have meant a lot to me over the years and why I have found them significant. As a disclaimer, I will deviate slightly off the topic of “happiness” for both quotations, but I think that both are relevant enough to share.

The first quotation I would like to share is by one of my more recent favourite authors, 村上 春樹 (Murakami Haruki):

One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.

― 村上 春樹, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Murakami is a bit newer on the scene for me in terms of my literary interests. I first discovered him about two years ago and I subsequently had read almost all of his published novels before the year was out.

Before my intensive study of Eastern philosophy and culture over the past few years, I probably would have described “happiness” as something akin to “feeling good” or “elation” or “excitement” or “a time where nothing is wrong and everything is right.” And while there is certainly nothing wrong with those experiences, I wondered sometimes about the long-term value or sustainability of these emotions or the value is explicitly chasing them down (the “pursuit of happiness” to quote a certain document – is the pursuit of happiness a worthy end in and of itself? These are the questions I was beginning to ask).

As I traipsed my philosophical way out east, I began to discover a different perspective on what constitutes happiness: something more related to “peace” or “contentment” or, in this case, “harmony.” I began to see that happiness was, perhaps, a lesser good, if you will – perhaps a stepping-stone on the way to true contentment by way of surrender.

What I particularly love about this Murakami quotation is the recognition of and emphasis on suffering as a connecting point between people as part of the harmonious life. I find myself consistently referencing Martin Buber, but perhaps he, too, was on to something: perhaps it really is only in the moments of seeing one another as we are that we can begin to come to terms with ourselves.

In other words, as these two greats have pointed out, it is through the human encounters we have – both blissful and turbulent – that make up our experiences. And, in fact, it is the amalgamation of the entirety of one person’s being with another’s (and theirs with another’s and theirs with another’s and so on) that actually brings about true harmony. It is in the seeing the Other and surrendering our fears and presuppositions and insecurities and flaws and offering up ourselves to the community (and ultimately to God, I believe) that we can see ourselves and ultimately achieve True Harmony.

The other quotation I will share is by one of my all-time favourite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending; or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale — or otherworld — setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

― J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories

This quotation thematically follows from the former in many ways. In life there is rarely an experience as intense as grief. As we all know, grief has the ability to utterly consume us — tearing us apart from the inside-out and wrecking havoc on us and our lives as we know it. It feels all-powerful and is, at the time of its greatest intensity, our only reality.

It is for this reason Tolkien suggests that we are so drawn to story, particularly fairy-tales: not as an escape mechanism but as a way for us to catch a “fleeting glimpse” of the Joy that under-girds our seemingly broken present. It tells us of a time when all the “dyscatastrophes” of this world are caught up in and participate in a greater Reality that has been present all along, if only we had the eyes to see it. And yet it is, by wild paradox, the sorrows of life that colour the joys most sweetly.

Joy, I am coming to see, is related to happiness, but perhaps only by way of metaphor. I am coming to believe that happiness is a temporary state of emotion – something that flares up when you see ice cream on sale at the corner shop and dies back down just as quickly when you look at your expanding stomach the next day – but that joy is a way of life: an inner steadiness that weathers the ups and the downs, a harmony and takes all things in stride and holds all things in balance, a contentment that surrenders both the good and the bad and asks it to be caught up in something ever so much greater and grander than itself and than it could ever possibly imagine.

Both as per the rules of the chain-letter and by my own personal interest, I would like to nominate three of my friends to take up the torch, as it were. Please feel free to accept or decline! There is, of course, no pressure!
Lieve at Magnified Faith
Nina Zane at Growing Up Sideways
Lillian at Orkidèdatter

The rules for this “chain-letter” are quite simple:
1. Thank the selector
2. Post two quotations for the dedicated “Topic of the Day” (in this case, “happiness”)
3. Select three bloggers to take part in “3-2-1 Quote Me!”

16 responses to “On Happiness, Harmony, and Joy”

  1. NZain avatar

    Oh my gosh I’m goosebumps all over!!!!
    First of all-this is beautiful for so many reasons.
    Secondly, I see you have me in good company, thank you, friend.
    Yep. Surprise! 🕊

    1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

      Thank you thank you! I can’t wait to see what you do! (If you choose to!)

      1. NZain avatar

        Well its interesting—I’ve just called my next adventure Happiness Ever After. With the idea that it’s navigating through the sadness and the calm that happiness is found. Those bursts of joy…I’ll for sure give this thought. Thank you for thinking of me 🙂

        1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

          Hmmmm that sounds so lovely 🙂 I can’t wait to read it when it comes! I’m sure it’ll be amazing!

    1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

      Love this! Thanks for sharing!

  2. orkidedatter avatar

    Nathan, I don’t know what to say…
    It’s not often I am speechless, but you are one of the few who can stop the words from coming out of my mouth.
    I read your post twice… Ok, because I am from Norway…but it was not therefor this time…
    It was such a beautiful read, and I am deeply grateful to you my friend for your words. You are stunning…
    When I read to the end I discovered a familiar name .. my name, thank you Nathan, you are too kind.
    But you gave me a real challenge as well… but, I like it🦋
    I hope you are well❤️

    1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

      Ugh Lillian you are so nice to me! Your poetry is so beautiful and I feel similarly!!! I’m glad you liked this and I can’t wait to see what you do for yours (if you want to do it!)!

      1. orkidedatter avatar

        Awe… you are so sweet, thank you.
        Ofcourse I will do it❤️
        Thank you.

  3. orkidedatter avatar

    By the way, I really loved your first quote, maybe i borrow it and make some art to those lovely words..

    1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

      Oh please do! That book is one of my very favourites and I bet you could make some lovely art out of that quotation! Please share it when you’re done!!! <3

      1. orkidedatter avatar

        Wow, now I really think I will do it…it will take some time… be patient🦋🙈
        Maybe I dedicate my art to you so you can hang it on your wall at your home….
        I wish you a wonderful day.

  4. kristianw84 avatar

    First of all, thank you for your kind words! Secondly, thank you for participating, & lastly, great quotes!!

    1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

      Thank you thank you! And you’re welcome! 😉

  5. Accipiter G. Goshawk avatar

    What a lovely post. I agree: joy is the way, in the same way that happinness is a stone on the path. Thank you for sharing the quote from Tolkien; I hadn’t encountered it before and I think it will probably become one of my favourites.

    1. Nathan AM Smith avatar

      Thanks for sharing this! And yes – Tolkien was quite a master with words and this is one of his finest!

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