Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Khalil Gibran

Welcome to Day Two of Say Yes to Joy

There are times in every person’s life when joy can feel far out of reach. What importance can joy possibly have when the world is full of such heartache? Do I even have a right to feel joy when so many people are suffering? And if I open to joy, will I betray my own struggles? The meaning we make in our lives, however, often emerges from the intersection of the seemingly contradictory, and the relationship between joy and suffering is a prime example. Br. David Steindl-Rast writes that “joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens,” but he also clarifies that it is impossible, of course, to be grateful for everything that happens in our lives; that is not the goal. The invitation and possibility lie in developing a practice that we can return to as a touchstone, even in the most challenging times. In this way, we leave the door open for joy. We build our capacity to hold, simultaneously, life’s sorrows and its gifts. They can co-exist without diminishing or betraying each other.

For When People Ask

By Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

I want a word that means
okay and not okay,
more than that: a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
I want the word that says
I feel it all all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
singing only one note at a time,
more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
and simultaneously
two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
that gives the impression
of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands swirl,
how the churning of opposite feelings
weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
blesses us with paradox
so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
this world so ripe with joy.

Begin by reading Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s poem, For When People Ask, in which the poet reminds us that the heart “is not like a songbird singing only one note at a time” but, instead, is capable of holding seemingly paradoxical feelings. This rich interplay of emotion creates great meaning in our lives, much like the complex combination of notes, sounds, and rhythms creates beautiful music. 

After reading the poem, take a few moments to look back on your life and identify a time when you experienced joy and sorrow in close proximity to each other. Maybe you found yourself bursting into laughter in the midst of tears, felt the love of friends while grieving, or simply stepped away from the daily news into a blue-sky day.

How did it feel to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously? How did they shape and inform each other?

Today’s Practice

While it’s tempting to think of emotional states on a continuum from negative to positive, life is of course more complex than that. The range of feelings we experience is more like a symphony that moves from brooding to elated, from discordant to melodic, from heavy to light within a singular piece of music. As we’re reminded in the poem above, our hearts have the capacity to play seemingly contradictory notes at once, resulting in distinct chords. These notes shape, bend, and complete each other, creating the music of our individual lives. 

Listen to and watch this gorgeous rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his family. Attune to the ways the music conveys a wide range of emotion, sometimes within the notes of a single chord. As you’re listening, imagine your own heart capable of feeling and expressing multiple emotions simultaneously. 

After savoring this music, complete today’s practice with the following:

  1. What images or words emerge for you when you imagine your heart as an instrument capable of playing multiple notes at the same time that, combined, create a kind of beautiful music? Sketch or write these out.
  2. Identify one thing you can do today to make a little room for joy to come alive alongside a challenge you may be facing or a sorrow you may be carrying. It’s okay to start small.
  3. At the end of the day, take a little time to consider how you might continue this practice of “playing multiple notes simultaneously.” How do you imagine that these different notes of the chord might actually make the music of your life more layered and rich? 

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find the Community Conversation space where we we invite you to share your reflections.

Deepening Resource


This beautiful, 9-minute film shares one woman’s story of coming to know the meaningful relationship between sorrow and joy. The narrator describes how amidst the devastating loss of her husband, she tapped into an abiding joy “deep, deep, deep” within herself.

Research Highlight

Research demonstrates that joyful people are able to experience joy even amidst difficult situations. The implication is that when we nurture a joyful orientation to life, we can tap that wellspring even amidst our sorrows. Joy and hardship can co-exist, especially if we’ve developed a practice of opening to joy.

Watkins, Emmons, Greaves, and Bell (2017) in Journal of Positive Psychology

Photo by Michael Podger