How numb have we become to joy?

May 4, 2016

We think more and more is the way to joy – but maybe the way to joy is actually less and less

Photo: Caleb Frith

Last Spring break we took the kids to Vanuatu and this holiday brought me right up close with pure joy. I don’t mean the joy that comes from not having to cook for a week, or not having to make my own bed, or sipping on poolside cocktails, or getting an hour long massage – though all of those elements were definitely there.  No, I’m talking about the kind of joy that has slipped out of reach for me. The kind of joy that I have forcibly – unwittingly – shifted out of my life.

Eratap jetty on the lagoon
Eratap jetty on the lagoon

The decision to go to Vanuatu was made years ago – as soon as I read about the beautiful and idyllic Eratap Resort and its remote setting near a small village, a place where our girls would be able to experience another culture and realise just how lucky they are to have all the conveniences of our modern western lifestyle.

I’ve tried to book several times over the last few years but because they only have twelve villas and only run ‘family weeks’ during school holidays (the rest of the time it’s just for grown ups), we hadn’t previously been able to score a guernsey. This time, though, we got IN! Happy as I was, this wasn’t my brush with joy either.

A chance for my daughters to experience something unique

The night before our trip, I had made a mad dash to Woolies and bought some packs of colouring pencils and drawing paper that we would be able to give to the local children. During our stay we organised to pay a visit to the village, a guided tour by a couple of the beautiful Ni-vans who work at the resort, and our girls were able to see the very basic living conditions, the hard work of the villagers, and the vulnerability to the elements that was all the more obvious in the wake of Cyclone Pam earlier in the year.

And yet, I came away from that village visit wondering whether we are in every sense the truly lucky ones after all.

Is the price of our ‘luck’ that real joy is increasingly elusive? Have we confused ourselves about where joy can be found?

A little girl from the Eratap village
A little girl from the Eratap village

When we went along to the village, our girls got to meet some of the local children who were spending their afternoon the same way as every other afternoon – playing soccer on the village field.

I had taken along the packs of Woolies colouring pencils and drawing paper to give them and I immediately wished I had packed many more. As the pencils were being shared among the children we met—some being reserved to give to the other children in the village—we were able to see their eyes light up as they were being handed just three pencils each. I wanted to send them truckloads of pencils; I wanted them to have pencils galore!

The Western way

But then, that is just our excessive Western way. If something gives us pleasure we try to get lots and lots of it.

We think more and more is the way to joy – but as I think of those gorgeous beaming faces, maybe the way to joy is actually less and less.

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