The problem with joy isn’t that we don’t ever feel it.
It’s that we don’t want it. Not really. We feel it all the time, it comes to us all the time, but the moments are either too small or fleeting—and so we let them go or we don’t trust them or we don’t recognize what they are in the first place—or they’re too huge, too overwhelming—and so we run from them, try to deny them, can’t handle them; and in either case they’re moments of emotion, not pure reason, and moments of spontaneity, not order and control, and we don’t like that. We want to be in control. We want to understand what’s happening.
Joy isn’t just something that comes when we’re good but something that comes when we’re bad, too, or desolate, or in despair, and that scares the hell out of us.
We want to be able to put the moment into words, and if there’s one defining quality of these moments of joy, it’s that they elude our language. We can only point to them. And we can’t make them happen. There’s no cause and effect. We can’t pray the rosary and think the right thoughts and do moral things and help people and study and all of this and have it lead automatically, causally, in every case, to the feeling of joy. Joy isn’t reproducible by another experimenter. Joy isn’t a product of our behavior and will. Joy isn’t just something that comes when we’re good but something that comes when we’re bad, too, or desolate, or in despair, and that scares the hell out of us.
The problem with joy is that it’s always pulling the rug out from under us, and what’s underneath are the stars. What’s above us are the stars. It’s the starry night over and over again, or a glimpse of it. Gorgeous. Frightening.