When I was a student at Notre Dame, I had the fortune to hear a discernment talk given by Fr. Michael Himes. Fr. Himes spoke about three key questions we need to ask ourselves to help find our vocation in life. While these three questions appear simple at first, when one dives into each question often he/she will find it difficult to articulate an answer. I will attempt to tackle the three questions, one per day, in hopes that it helps others to examine their vocations.
What Gives You Joy?
Pretty easy, right? We all know what we like and dislike…however, this question asks you about ‘Joy’, not happiness or satisfaction. Fr. Himes defined ‘Joy’ as “the sense of the rightness of the way in which one is living one’s life.” Think of what are you obsessed with, what in your life you cannot leave alone – something that spurs on more questions, action, thought, etc., what gives you delight even when you are dissatisfied with the current situation.
A key distinction between ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’ is that happiness is often affected by external factors. Seeing an Notre Dame victory makes me happy, but since the source of the happiness is outside of my control, I would not consider this event as giving me ‘joy’. Also, the fact that a victory is a single, ephemeral event prevents one from considering the victory as giving ‘joy’…happiness, yes; joy, no. One way to think of the difference between happiness and joy is that joy come from within and is not affected by day-to-day changes in our lives.
An example could be someone who experiences happiness versus joy in working on a garden. Some individuals are happy/satisfied when the garden looks beautiful but considers the effort of planting, weeding, pruning, fertilizing, etc. as cumbersome. This person experiences satisfaction or happiness from the outcome, but not joy from gardening (and that is fine!). ‘Joy’ would when one sees a patch of dirt and gets excited to cultivate the land into a beautiful garden. ‘Joy’ from gardening would be when it is Saturday morning and the first desire is to get out of bed and work in the garden (maybe a cup of coffee first). The person who sees a beautiful garden and does not see a finished product but a work in progress – and is excited to see that the garden is a work in progress and cannot wait to get back to work – is experiencing ‘Joy’.
There are many things in the world that give us happiness – a sunny day, a thank you note, a good night of sleep when you have a newborn – or satisfaction – finishing a home improvement project, mailing off your last mortgage payment – ‘Joy’ is never finished or completed. ‘Joy’ will always call us to want more, to do more. Thus, the question “What gives you joy?” is never completely answered and we continually need to come back and ask ourselves this question.
Ask colleagues, family, friends, and mentors about times when they have seen you the most energized, passionate or excited about a task/topic. While others can help you by offering their observations and feedback, this question can only be answered by you.
Tomorrow: What are you good at?