Joy is Not the Absence of Pain

Joy is Not the Absence of Pain

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some of us can feel so physically well that we believe our work is done. However, joy is not just the absence of pain; it is the gift of continued awakening. Joy comes from ongoing and active study, as well as the application of the principles of wellness in my everyday life, and from sharing that experience with others. Life presents many opportunities for deeper insights. I need only to bring the willingness to grow.

The Parable of the Long Spoons explains this idea very well and has been attributed to both Eastern and Western wisdom traditions.

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.” God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles, and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”

Behind the second door, the room appeared the same. There was a large round table with a large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

God smiled. It is simple, he said, Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves.

Sometimes, thinking of our personal gratification, we tend to forget our interdependence with everyone and everything around us. As the parable makes clear, not helping our fellow human beings simply means harming ourselves since we are all connected on a very deep level.

Questions for reflection:

  • Can I honestly say, “I am joyful?”
  • When I was a child, what did I consider important?
  • How has my sense of what brings me joy changed over the last twenty years?
  • Do I feel a sense of generosity in my everyday life?
  • Is there anything I’m too afraid to do or outgrow?
  • Is it okay to be who I am today?


Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Howard Thurman