The idea of curating joy has been trespassing on my thoughts lately, perhaps a little too persistently. This year has been a sandpaper-on-an-open-wound kind of year for me so far. Too many things that are out of my control have been controlling my happiness. It’s easy enough, in theory, to say “cut them loose,” but reality is always more complicated than a simple act of slicing away the infected bits. Sometimes the infected bits are essential to your survival.
So I’ve had more days than not this year when I’ve been close enough to tears that my eyes burn with them. Pushing them back is sometimes a monumental effort, sometimes a lost cause, and sometimes a barrier to some temporary relief. Instead, I try to judiciously dole them out, hiding them from plain view and even hiding them from closer scrutiny because I’m learning to hate talking about the reasons I’m sad, even with the people who love and support me the most.
Instead, I’ve spent time trying to carve out joy in a meticulous way, at times using an Exacto knife to chisel away at the barriers to happiness. It’s been pretty exhausting. Slivers of joy come, but they’re continually covered back up as if the small depressions I make are just holes to be inlaid with more pain as soon as they are carved open. So I carve a bit harder and wonder at the futility of it all.
Platitudes of finding joy and practicing gratitude certainly have their place in our lives. But the reality of finding joy when you are walking down a long corridor of darkness requires more than clichés. It requires space. It requires solitude. It requires light, even if it’s no more than a small recessed beam directed at a fragment of art hanging in that corridor. It requires moments of peace and reflection. But most of all, I believe, the effort to be joyous requires love. At every moment in this year when I have felt the burden to curate joy to be stronger than my will to be happy, I have forced myself to take a step forward with the realization that our own joy is not something we hold just for ourselves. Ultimately, when we are faced with a choice between sadness and joy, we curate joy in ourselves because of our love for others. As a curator in a museum protects treasures for others to see and enjoy, we curate our own joy for others to have peace and happiness. When I see my little girl’s face troubled because she knows I’m hurting, when I hear my ache reflected in the voice of my mother because she is worrying about me, when someone dear to me lovingly lectures me on the similarities of our problems and the need for me to find my way, I know that joy is a shared emotion worthy of protection. Joy is not an individual beast, but a communal one. The joy I am responsible for is not just mine but is shared by those who love me. And that makes the burden of curating it a little bit lighter, a little bit easier, and a little bit more sure.