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Joy in Your Heart

Joy in Your Heart

Modern society teaches us that anything worthwhile doesn't come easily. We are always told that the good things in life take hard work. We have to work hard, study hard, play hard, and if we fail or fall short, we must try harder, practice harder, become harder. Everything hard, hard, hard... because life is hard.

As a result, I found that I got in the habit of approaching nearly everything in life as a confrontation, as something to conquer or overcome. Moreover, I assumed that if I didn't apply much effort at something, then there was something wrong, there was some kind of catch.

This was a pattern I fell into in my romantic relationships for many years. I had heard the narrative of couples working hard to stay together against all odds. The stories I heard as a child like "The Little Mermaid" and "Romeo and Juliet," all seemed to convey the same thing. If you really love someone, you fight to stay together. As I grew older, I seemed to pay attention to those narratives that upheld that belief. I was surrounded by stories of how difficult it was to maintain a relationship or marriage for decades. I received advice on working hard to communicate and of the necessity to sacrifice for each other. As a result, I felt that I couldn't leave a relationship when I felt it wasn't a good fit, because I was under the impression that I could just work on it until it did.

I was compelled to put huge effort into my relationships from the beginning in a way that set them perpetually off balance. This had become such a pattern for me, that when I started getting to know my now husband, it felt so weird and wrong at how easy and effortless it was to just be with him. It made it difficult to trust him and the relationship, because I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I often found myself pulling away, because I felt like I wasn't in control.

And I think that's one pitfall of the narrative of "working hard" can play out in our lives. We've set the expectation that life is hard, and so if we're not working hard at life, then we're somehow doing it wrong. Of course, relationships can hit rough patches, especially when under external stress factors. I am not blind to those truths, and my marriage is not immune to them either. There are many aspects of life that are extremely difficult. Moreover, life in general is unfair, and some of us have harder lives than others. But at the same time, let us ask ourselves: Is there still space for joy? Is there still space for grace? Or mercy? Or softness? Can we not make things more difficult than they have to be?

For most of us in most situations, the answer will always be yes. No matter how difficult, boring, sad, or painful something is, there is always room to introduce a little space for joy in our hearts. I'm not talking about blind optimism; I'm referring to making a little crack in the rigidity of our hard mindset, a crack that may seem to make us weaker, but ultimately is, as Leonard Cohen says, what lets the light in. The Dalai Lama also taught something similar, that no matter how difficult a situation, there is always room to be kind. And even the Seven Dwarves in Disney's "Snow White" showed a whole generation how to whistle while we work.

Here, in this week's comic, I've drawn the oxherd boy, weighed down by responsibility of looking after a young friend, while defending his lunch from far-too-interested chickens. Yet he still maintains a heart that doesn't crackle with toxic positivity, but reflects an imperturbable ease that I hope to bring forth in my daily life and that of my son, especially now that he's in school. The academic environment and tradition in Taiwan is very competitive, and while I recognize the value of applied discipline, at the same time, I try to remind my son: where is the joy in studying? If he can find it, then studying may not become as hard as we fear.

What do you think about the idea of working hard versus working cheerfully? Do you do one more often than the other, and if so, when?

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