Keep the Joy

We lived in Vermont during the homeschool years, half an hour or so from the facility that produced Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. When family and friends came to visit, we took them for the tour that ended with a sample of whatever flavor they were making that day — always a good reason to make the drive, unless you are like me and wonder why they can’t just be making chocolate every time! My everlasting confusion about crazy flavors aside, I remember the tour being rather homespun. In the short movie at the beginning, Ben and Jerry both spoke fondly about the early days of the business in a renovated old gas station in Burlington, and they made sure to include their bumper sticker slogan: “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

I can hardly believe it now, but the first few times I saw that movie, I’d cringe when they came to that part. “Ha!” I’d say to myself. “You don’t know anything about real life. You’re just a couple of guys who struck it rich with great ice cream. Easy for you to say — how hard can making ice cream be? There are a lot of things that aren’t fun in this life, but you have to do them anyway.”  

Now I cringe that I used to think that! What a humbug I was!

Obviously we have to do a lot of things that aren’t fun. Cleaning the bathroom comes to mind. A lot of what life throws our way is not fun. Anyone who has been to an ER lately will agree. A lot of people do not help make the day fun. Are there any grumpy people in your life?

My grandfather lived with us from the time I was eight years old. If it was sunny, that hurt his eyes. If it was rainy, he couldn’t work in the garden. If it was a glorious spring day, then surely it was going to rain. A glorious fall day, winter was coming. Spectacular summer day, too hot. Full moon shining on freshly fallen snow, freezing out.

No wonder I turned into a humbug. No wonder I scoffed at Ben & Jerry.

But so many things are better when we see them through the lens of fun, of joy, of delight, of beauty, of wonder. Why does it take us humans so long to figure that out?!

Very many moons ago when I decided that homeschooling my kids was the thing to do, I had no idea I would embrace Ben & Jerry’s philosophy and that it would shape and affect so many parts of my life. In fact, it landed on my list of reasons to take on this gigantic task, though in retrospect this item looks more like a goal rather than a reason. Three words summed it up for me:

Keep the joy.

Those three words were my shorthand for: Whatever you do, start by looking on the bright side. You can say this any way you want: see the glass half full, highlight the good, be optimistic, expect the best, manifest hope.… Then make sure it’s as engaging and fun, as likely to bring a good outcome, as you can make it. The keyword here is joy. Then do your best to keep things going that way (keyword: keep). Doing a thing with good spirit can happen randomly or because you have to or because someone is paying you. Continuing to do it joyfully, this doesn’t just happen. This is where choice comes in. We have to choose to be of good cheer, then actually behave that way, then choose that again — until it becomes such our pattern, our norm, our M.O.

What I see now is that no matter how you express it, two good things happen if you choose to Keep the Joy. First, the thing (whatever it is) gets done with less suffering. That is, you suffer less. I don’t know how this can be a bad thing. Why would people want to do the thing that means more suffering if they can in any way lessen it? Even if you just have music playing in the background while you clean the toilet, you can at least marvel at the gift of music or the technology that brings it into our homes or the power of someone’s voice. Or you can sing along!

Subsequently, if the thing you are doing is not as bad as it could be, if it is indeed better because of your choice to improve it with a mindset that refuses to be an Eeyore, you are more likely to want to do it again — or at least to complain less the next time you have to do it. And less complaining is a way to lessen the suffering for those around you, a way to make someone else’s world a little brighter — and that is a good thing too!

I worked with a man named CJ for about 12 years. CJ could be called the washroom attendant, which is a nice way of saying he cleans other people’s messes. In my view and in my experience, cleaning the toilet is not only not fun, it is icky. CJ cleans them as part of his job, day in, day out. Now in his mid-70s and still working full time, he shows up for work on time, greets everyone cheerfully and by name, gets the job done, always has a kind word. Every time you see him, there he is, the epitome of a joyful person, full of politeness and kindness, doing the epitome of an icky job.

A few weeks ago, as he was on his way to clean the toilets again, I ran into him and mentioned that the locker room doors had been locked earlier when they should have been open. He smiled at me, exuded kindness, assured me he would check on those doors being still locked at that hour and then said “It’s always so nice to see you, Miss Patricia!”

“CJ,” I said, “You never complain!”

“I don’t have time,” he said with his beaming smile. And on his way he went.

Oh, for more CJ’s in the world!

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