Joy versus pleasure
Joy x 2.
Writing in The New York Review of Books this week, author Zadie Smith penned a wonderful reflection on the difference between pleasure and joy and I thought you might appreciate her distinction as we disappear into the "joyful" fug of Christmas once again ...
Smith observes that "a lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road - you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience".
For her, pleasure is something she experiences a little of each day, as she eats or people-watches or mimicks her dog for her husband, while joy is an emotion she'd only felt five or six times in her life - three times when in love and a couple of occasions whilst under the influence of drugs.
Smith goes on to write of her almost three-year-old daughter: "Occasionally the child, too, is a pleasure, though mostly she is a joy, which means in fact she gives us not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognise as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily."
Those words shattered in me because I recognised why I feel so deflated when my daughter is not around. It's not because I am sad because I'm not; I'm mourning the absence of joy I feel when in her company.
As I've written before, if there's one benefit to being separated from your child, it's you cherish the time you do have with them; the film of mundanity has little opportunity to form because just when it might, they are gone and you begin the frightening but delightful anticipation of the next time.
This is not to suggest all full-time parents experience their children as mundane, just that we humans tend to take what we have for granted until it's not there; be it running water, air-conditioning, a full belly, or being able to hug your kids whenever you wish.
Some of you are probably grimacing at the thought of Christmas lunch with the full managerie of your family and I'd suggest this too could be a case of mistaking joy for pleasure.
We're told by so many lying lips of the "joy" of Christmas, when the reality is it's mostly duty, some pleasure and, if you're lucky, fragments of joy.
I dare say most of those joyous moments will involve children or, perhaps, favourite old pet animals, so I guess the trick is to recognise and savour them and not expect the rest of the day to reach such heights.
Those of you who won't be with your children, or your parents - and wish, wish more than anything it could be different - well, I reckon you already know what I mean.
As Smith quotes in her excellent piece: "It hurts just as much as it is worth."