I will never apologize for embracing joy and beauty — even when the world is falling apart — because joy and beauty are my fuel for activism.

Karen Walrond

Welcome to Day Five of Say Yes to Joy

If joy can be found in the everyday, nurtured as an abiding emotional state, and accessed as a bridge to connect with others, is it too much to ask that it also serve as fuel for us to take care of our beloved, struggling world? Br. David Steindl-Rast writes that the recognition of and compassion for others’ suffering is a “communion” that grants us “a joy that [we] could not find in any other way. It may even give [us] an incentive to stand up for others who suffer.” He continues elsewhere: “Gratefulness will be that full response which releases the full power of my compassion. Gratefulness is creative and overflows into action.” The more that gratefulness helps you open to joy, the more compelled and better equipped you may be to act in a way that advances a peaceful, equitable, and ecologically healthy world — to contribute your individual gesture, no matter its size, toward the collective good. 

Begin by reading this brief and compelling piece about Karen Walrond’s The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change without Losing Your Joy. It explains how joyful activism is much like building a campfire: make a clearing, gather your tinder, find your spark, and tend to the flames.

  • After reading, take a few moments to write your “spark statement,” as described in the article.

Today’s Practice

To inspire your own plan of joy-inspired action, watch this 2-minute video in which Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai recounts the fable of the hummingbird’s response to a wildfire. Through her lifelong work on behalf of the environment and human rights, Dr. Maathai embodied the message of this story: that we should each do what we can, even if we believe our gesture is too small for the “wildfire” at hand.

After watching the video, walk through the following steps:

  1. Identify one thing in the world that brings you great joy but which is currently at risk — anything from a local natural habitat to healthcare access, quality schools to world peace. 
  2. Take a few moments to consider all the ways you appreciate and value this particular thing or idea. How is your life and the life of those you love made better — possible, even — because of the existence and future of this particular thing?
  3. From this place of gratitude, come up with one action you can take to nourish and sustain what you care about. To be clear, action can take many forms. It might be public and obvious — the protest, the op-ed, the artistic creation, the community garden. Or it might be quiet and less visible — the letter, the donation, the voting booth, the random act of kindness. 

After you’ve put your gratefulness into action, take some time to reflect on how it feels to enact your appreciation in this way, to nourish what you value and what brings you joy. Aristotle taught his students that “joy results from an act of justice.” How did your joy-inspired action result in greater joy both within and around you?

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

One Day, A Musical Project by Koolulam 

In 2018, Koolulam brought together three thousand people to sing One Day by Matisyahu, in three languages — English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Koolulam’s mission is to convene people from different cultures, geographies, and faiths to harness the power of musical harmony to create social change and harmony in humanity. The result here is a powerful example of grateful joy fueling action, which in turns yields more joy.

Research Highlight

In The Journal of Positive Psychology, philosopher and cognitive scientist Matthew Kuan Johnson writes that a review of the existing psychological research on joy reveals that “joy potentiates action and is energizing. Joy provides the motivational resources to act, to intervene, to improve. Joy is also often contagious, it involves transference as we share and spread joy.” 

Matthew Kuan Johnson (2020) The Journal of Positive Psychology

Photo by Zhang Kaiyv