The Pursuit of Joy

Posted on October 21, 2014 by Robert Ringer


By dictionary definition, joy is “an emotion of great happiness.” I would be tempted to refer to it as ultimate happiness, but there is no accurate way to quantify either happiness or joy. The truth is that none of us can ever be certain of what constitutes ultimate happiness. Whatever it is, joy seems to invite itself into our lives without warning.

You’ve undoubtedly had at least one experience that you could describe as joy, a moment in time when everything seemed to be just perfect.   Most likely you can recall the day, and possibly even joy’s moment of onset, very clearly, as well as the circumstances surrounding it.

One such experience happened to me in my mid-twenties when I was in the men’s apparel business and spent a lot of time in New York. I didn’t have much money, so I got to know the less trendy parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens pretty well.

It was an exciting time — high hopes, eternal youth, and a world of opportunity. Sleep was an occasional distraction, gourmet dining was a corned beef sandwich at a Lower East Side deli. I could not have imagined a more exhilarating activity than walking around Greenwich Village, taking the subway to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, or browsing at Macy’s on 34th Street at a time when only New York could boast of having a Macy’s store.

I usually stayed at the old Prince George Hotel on 28th Street, as it was inexpensive and more than suitable for my needs at the time. Best of all, there was an automat just across the street, and when it came to dining treats, the automat was just a notch below my favorite deli.

As exciting as those times were for me, I probably did not fully appreciate the magnificence of it all. There was a feeling of urban spirituality that I certainly will never experience again — first, because I will never again be in my mid-twenties; second, because the world was much younger than today, much more innocent and wholesome.

What I now understand is that I was in a very high state of consciousness, a consciousness that would have been impossible for me to achieve intentionally. In retrospect, I realize that my hyperconscious state was a prerequisite for what was about to happen to me.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in November, and I was driving on the Grand Central Parkway on my way to JFK International Airport. My mind was filled with a thousand and one thoughts about my life, both business and personal.

Then, just as I began to steer my car south onto the Van Wyke Expressway, my entire life seemed to freeze into sharp focus. It was as though I were being given the means to solve all my business and personal problems simultaneously. It was an impossible-to-describe feeling that bordered on omniscience.

Instead of having to exert the usual intense mental effort to sort out my thoughts, everything that was of importance to me at the time — perhaps forty or fifty in number — instantly became clearly fixed in my mind in an orderly fashion.

It seemed as though a bright light had suddenly brought my thoughts out of the dark recesses of my subconscious mind and allowed me to consciously focus on all of them at one time. It was a feeling of immense power, joy, and inner ecstasy.

I cannot recall exactly how long that ecstatic feeling of heightened awareness lasted, but I would guess it was perhaps two or three minutes. Since that time, I have had similar experiences on a handful of occasions, with each of them lasting only a matter of seconds, but nothing to match the intensity of that unexpected blink of awareness I experienced on my way to JFK Airport.

The most appropriate word I can use to describe such rare moments of heightened awareness is joy — pure joy. I’ve always wondered why it is so difficult to bring about this joyful feeling, and the best answer I can come up with is that a human being cannot will joy to come forth. In fact, I think it’s a mistake to pursue joy. It’s much wiser to practice those principles that result in joy.

In other words, the best way to pursue joy is to not consciously pursue it at all. As many people reach their golden years, particularly people of means, they often find themselves asking the age-old question, “Is that all there is?” Borrowing from Ralph Waldo Emerson, I believe the mistake most people make is to think of happiness as a destination rather than a journey.

Viktor Frankl, the father of logotherapy, referred to this phenomenon as “paradoxical intention,” contending that the more we make something a target, the more likely we are to miss it. But it’s a bit complicated, because the line between paradoxical intention and laser-like focus on your objective is a fine one.

Clearly, a permanent state of joy is not possible on a secular level, because pain is an integral and important part of life. Pain gives us a reference point for experiencing pleasure. Ill health gives us a reference point for experiencing the pleasure of good health; poverty gives us a reference point for experiencing the pleasure of wealth; losing gives us a reference point for experiencing the pleasure of winning.

In short, life itself would not be precious without the reality of death. As Carl Jung put it, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”

All this is pretty abstract stuff, to be sure, but when those inexplicable moments of a heightened state of awareness make their appearance — and, rest assured, they will — seize those magic moments and focus on what you can do, right now, to take your life to a higher level. Why is it so critical to seize the moment? Because the heightened-state-of-awareness window closes very fast.

May The Force be with you.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

20 responses to “The Pursuit of Joy”

  1. Casey says:

    This is a side comment and I realize is not the point of your post –

    I didn't live back in the era you did when you were in your twenties Robert so I could be wrong in saying this but I don't necessarily think the world was more wholesome and pure back then. Maybe you were just less cynical and less aware of the unwholesomeness that existed. (And I use cynicism as a somewhat positive word)

    Maybe it has something to do with the technology and media. Today everything is documented and reported, and therefore more people are open and informed to the unwholesomeness conduct that goes around in all parts of the world.

    • saintquinn says:

      Your comment is WRONG AND STUPID…Robert is CORRECT….
      Robert was referring to early 1960's NYC when he wrote "the world was much younger than today, much more innocent and wholesome"….
      You stated that you didn't live back in that era…I am from Brooklyn and was alive during that era….
      I can ASSURE ROBERT is was 1000 percent correct when he made that statement about early 1960's NYC…..
      Soon after…(mid 1960's and later….) many NYC neighborhoods quickly imploded….White flight followed and those previously very nice, safe middle class, White American neighborhoods became complete filthy crime ridden slums over a 10 year period…Impeccably clean, manicured, previously White housing projects for the working class quickly became filthy, excrement laden rape, robbery and murder slums…
      NYC today is no longer America….It's been invaded by the vile, filthy, uncivilized 3rd world….The current garbage mayor the trash voted in is a good indication of what a den of iniquity it has become over 50 years….

    • Jean says:

      The media had a significant effect on the culture, which led to the very cynicism you claim. If you compare popular culture from the 1950s to that of the 1970s, you can see the erosion in attitude. Some people claim this was "growth," but I would challenge anyone to analyze and compare the results before reaching that conclusion. It's true that in 1960 New York City (or Detroit, which is where I came from), there were pockets of crime but for the most part, people could actually walk down a street without fear of being mugged, shot or raped. There were thriving businesses. People of all races and ethnicities were gainfully employed in those businesses, and were self-sufficient. People in general took pride in their accomplishments and in doing constructive activities. Find me anyone today who believes that honest work has dignity attached to it, and I'll wager that the person is an immigrant.

  2. Robert Ringer RJR says:

    Good point. To some extent, you're probably right … emphasize, to some extent.

  3. Richard says:

    I read an article this week which I think zeroes in on a key component – feeling gratitude – that is in your control, and that has the possibility of leading to that feeling of joy … not to mention a longer, happier life.

    We all want to be appreciated. When we make it a habit to feel and express real emotional appreciation to others, there's a good chance of experiencing that "feeling of immense power, joy, and inner ecstasy" you mentioned. Here's the article:

  4. Daniel says:

    You're so right. Those moments of clarity are fleeting. Acting immediately upon those thoughts is the only way to give them sustenance; otherwise they're subsumed by distractions, doubts, fears. I wonder how many great, life-changing ideas have come and gone that way, and how different our world would be had they been acted upon.

  5. Scott theczech says:

    Finding joy in an urban setting is a feat indeed, at least for most of us. It was with a certain level of cynicism that Thomas Jefferson wrote about the negative aspects of the urbanization of America – he lamented that America was to gradually leave traditional agrarian life for urbanization. Paraphrasing, he said that if we became piled atop one another in cities we would begin to look like and behave like Europe!

  6. cspkeynes says:

    Sometimes joy comes knocking at my front door , uninvited and comes in without asking !

  7. words2influence says:

    If that feeling of joy means having all your concerns pushed to the back of mind, then I reckon it has something to do with the subconscious welling up to occupying the mind space. The two hemispheres of the brain getting into synch through an unintentional slowing of the brain waves.

  8. larajf says:

    I am definitely happiest when I'm not focusing on the question "Am I happy?" I just feel the happiness and the gratitude for all that's in my life.

  9. Blind massage says:

    I never experienced heightened state of awareness, but many times I did experience such intense joy that the only way I can describe it is an emotional climax/orgazm. I am a retired masseur and I take a few blind people in a third worl location and in about 150 hours of intensive training I change the helpless and hopeless blind street beggars into health service providers with a minor handicap. On day one their demeanour, their body language, attitude, tone of voice and facial expressions are a textbook collection of visual indicators of feeling worthless, helpless, hopeless, useless, being a burden on society. Day after day this changes and on the last day after the last demonstration of the skills they've learned, some of them will stand there in a posture you often see at Olympic Games, where a humble athlete will break a world record and his face will say – my actions speak better then my words. At such a sight I experience such intense joy that tears just well up in my eyes

  10. Serge says:

    Going with the flow and taking more action and chances in life, even with its ups and downs, the more likely that we will bump into joy. The downs help realize the ups. Often times perfect weather does loose its luster thus rainy storms can be a joy.

  11. saintquinn says:

    Yes, I have had a few occasions where this clarity Robert describes occurs but only for seconds…I think the comments above by words2influence may be a very good explanation…
    There have to be "geniuses" (for lack of a better term) who are in this state frequently….
    On another note:
    What about the OPPOSITE of this clarity?
    I have had a few fleeting occasions where for seconds…. spontaneously…I didn't know how I arrived at that moment in in time and space…Basically sudden: WHAT AM I DOING HERE?… (while being completely aware of who and where I was….)….Personally I think these are momentary past life regressions that we snap out of pretty quickly…..This strange "deja vu" has been occurring once every year or two (to varying degrees and lengths) since I was a kid…I had a super powerful one of these episodes about 2 years ago while just parking my car arriving home in the afternoon….(please save the dumb drugs and drinking cracks…NOT my thing….)….

  12. RealitySeeker says:

    "Joy To The World" ~ Three Dog Night

    "Jeremiah was a bull frog

    Was a good friend of mine

    I never understood a single word he said

    But I helped him drink his wine

    And he always had some mighty fine wine"

    Ignorance is bliss, or so they say. I think it's bliss so long as ignorance (and "luck") be a lady, tonight, i.e., a dumb but sexy blond. By the way, Albert Einstein en(joy)ed the women. I always wondered how much he was inspired to a higher state of genius?

    Want a higher state of awareness? A superb artist and good friend of mine, confided in me once that a "mighty fine joint" lifts his creative awareness higher and higher until he muses a $100,000 sculpture. I say, his work is worth every penny and then some; and I've never met anybody happier.

    I say most religion is blissful ignorance, too, but some would say God grants a "higher state of awareness", e.g., a vision. Ever visit an all-black church in Georgia? "Oh happy day! Tribal joy!

    "Joy to the world the Lord has come!" Remember that one?

    The Greeks called joy "chara", and they knew how to pursue it. My two cents is this: Joy can be a learned state of mind. And the simplest lesson about joy is learned by looking back in time and realizing what a fool you were for not being more joyful and more inspired by that which you took for granted and those whom you should have spent more time enjoying……

  13. Richard Lee Van says:

    Excellent nostalgia, and more! Usually when I mention altered states of consciousness to regular guys, they look at me like I'm nuts, and often say so. Poor guys just don't understand, don't know, have not experienced… women are more likely to relate. Regarding nostalgia, I grew up 30 miles outside Detroit (I now call it "the cesspool") on the last acre of my Hungarian grandparents' farm. How I loved going to the Markets in Detroit with Grandpa and my uncles. Back then Detroit was more like how Mr. Ringer describes old NY. Years later in the 80s I lived in Detroit for less than a year during the "changing neighborhoods" period. What a shame. I find life generally better living in the Philippines as bad as some aspects are. A buddy of mine finds living in Vietnam much better than in the PI, but, one must learn the language there. Here at least Filipinos speak English… most anyway. How the world has changed in my almost 80 years! Sad. Young people have no idea!

  14. blh557 says:

    Experiencing Joy:

    1) Hearing "I do," from my soul mate 35 years ago.
    2) Hearing "I love you, Daddy," the first time.
    3) Hearing "I love you Papa (grand baby)," the first time.

    'Nuff said.

  15. Richard Lee Van says:

    Experiencing divorce, escaping the normal stuff with children, and not knowing my grandchildren gave me the personal freedom to experience a SIGNIFICANT life, not one as a "work a daddy". But, I am the exception, not the norm. hee hee haa haa

  16. Heather says:

    Very nice post, Robert. I, too, have felt these amazing moments but instead of being pushed to act on them immediately, I quietly ADD them to my arsenal of supporting thoughts. I can resurrect them, our mind is the ultimate time machine. Just reading you words I was transported and felt joy – the more you allow yourself to do it, the more natural that dimensional traveling becomes. Driving through a country neighborhood the other day I was transported to my youth by seeing a young boy getting off the school bus and checking the mail. The sun, the light – I am not sure where the portal came – but I suddenly remembered being that young girl coming off of the bus and having the whole afternoon ahead of me – time was vast then. My world was huge because I knew so little…that was joy and I can still revisit that time, and others, because I opened something inside of me that is now a part of who I am. Adding to the whole, transformed not gone.

  17. CARA says: