The Origin of Joy

There is a difference between ‘joy’ and ‘enjoyment’. Enjoyment is a more or less passive state, such as when we enjoy some form of entertainment. Joy, on the other hand, is an active status, which rises spontaneously through involvement and action. If we observe children, we see that they experience a true state of joy when they are able to ‘do’ something, whether it is learning how to jump for the first time, or helping their mother in some activity, or simply running, playing and experiencing life actively. Those who have this spontaneous ability to simply participate and act have a welling up of joy internally. Similarly, when we set out to work on some project, achieve or accomplish some action, we have the joy of the action, which is much more real and intense than the enjoyment of adulation or success that follows when others appreciate the result.

The Mother writes: “It is only effort, in whatever domain it be — material effort, moral effort, intellectual effort — which creates in the being certain vibrations which enable you to get connected with universal vibrations; and it is this which gives joy. It is effort which pulls you out of inertia; it is effort which makes you receptive to the universal forces. And the one thing above all which spontaneously gives joy, even to those who do not practice yoga, who have no spiritual aspiration, who lead quite an ordinary life, is the exchange of forces with universal forces. People do not know this, they would not be able to tell you that it is due to this, but so it is.”

“There are people who are just like beautiful animals — all their movements are harmonious, their energies are spent harmoniously, their uncalculating efforts call in energies all the time and they are always happy; but sometimes they have no thoughts in their head, sometimes they have no feelings in their heart, they live an altogether animalish life. I have known people like that; beautiful animals. They were handsome, their gestures were harmonious, their forces quite balanced and they spent without reckoning and received without measure. They were in harmony with the material universal forces and they lived in joy. They could not perhaps have told you that they were happy — joy with them was so spontaneous that it was natural — and they would have been still less able to tell you why, for their intelligence was not very developed. I have known such people, who were capable of making the necessary effort (not a prudent and calculated effort but a spontaneous one) in no matter what field: material, vital, intellectual, etc., and in this effort there was always joy. For example, a man sits down to write a book, he makes an effort which sets vibrating something in his brain to attract ideas; well, suddenly, this man experiences joy. It is quite certain that, whatever you do, even the most material work like sweeping a room or cooking, if you make the necessary effort to do this work to the maximum of your ability, you will feel joy, even if what you do is against your nature. When you want to realise something, you make quite spontaneously the necessary effort; this concentrates your energies on the thing to be realised and that gives a meaning to your life. This compels you to a sort of organisation of yourself, a sort of concentration of your energies, because it is this that you wish to do and not fifty other things which contradict it. And it is in this concentration, this intensity of the will, that lies the origin of joy. This gives you the power to receive energies in exchange for those you spend.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Boredom and Lack of Energy, pp. 53-56

Addressing and Overcoming Boredom

As long as we remain bound to the ego-personality, we are caught in the play of the three gunas, or qualities of nature. Every individual is subject to all three, and their constant interchange. Thus, there will be times and circumstances where tamas, the quality of indolence and darkness comes to the forefront. With tamas in the ascendant, we can experience a sense of emptiness, a sense of being at “loose ends” and a lack of interest in doing anything or concentrating. The question then is how the spiritual seeker can, or even should, respond, when these tamasic states are in the forefront. Wallowing in tamas, with various forms of distraction, or self-medication with drugs or alcohol, does not, obviously, provide any solution. The Mother’s prescription invokes bringing the powers of sattwa and rajas to bear to uplift the tamasic force with light, and positive energetic action.

The Mother notes: “There is nothing more contrary to the very reason of existence than this passing wave of boredom. If you make a little effort within yourself at that time, if you tell yourself: ‘Wait a bit, what is it that I should learn? What does all that bring to me so that I may learn something? What progress should I make in overcoming myself? What is the weakness that I must overcome? What is the inertia that I must conquer?’ If you say that to yourself, you will see the next minute you are no longer bored. You will immediately get interested and you will make progress! This is a commonplace of consciousness.”

“And then, you know, most people when they get bored, instead of trying to rise a step higher, descend a step lower, they become still worse than what they were, and they do all the stupid things that others do, go in for all the vulgarities, all the meannesses, everything, in order to amuse themselves. They get intoxicated, take poison, ruin their health, ruin their brain, they utter crudities. They do all that because they are bored. Well, if instead of going down, one had risen up, one would have profited by the circumstances. Instead of profiting, one falls a little lower yet than where one was. When people get a big blow in their life, some misfortune (what men call ‘misfortune’, there are people who do have misfortunes), the first thing they try to do is to forget it — as though one did not forget quickly enough! And to forget, they do anything whatsoever. When there is something painful, they want to distract themselves — what they call distraction, that is, doing stupid things, that is to say, going down in their consciousness, going down a little instead of rising up…. Has something extremely painful happened to you, something very grievous? Do not become stupified, do not seek forgetfulness, do not go down into the inconscience, you must go to the end and find the light that is behind, the truth, the force and the joy; and for that you must be strong and refuse to slide down.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Boredom and Lack of Energy, pp. 53-56