I’ve been seeing this particular meme popping up in social media for a couple of weeks now. I generally find this stuff easy to ignore — especially the lightweight pseudo-Zen philosophical near-aphorisms that sound profound but aren’t. But for some mysterious reason I find this particular meme more annoying than most (although, now I think of it, the reason isn’t at all mysterious; the reason is because it’s almost officially winter and soon I’ll be dealing with the reality of snow).
This is bullshit. It stinks of Zen, which is to say it has the appearance of Zen philosophy without the substance. It co-opts the notion of mindfulness; mindful fitness may be a real thing, but it exists outside of a hashtag. It suggests I’m somehow at fault for NOT finding joy in snow. It suggests joy is something I can somehow force myself to experience rather than a spontaneous reaction to the moment. It suggests I’m unwilling to ‘find’ joy in snow, and that my unwillingness is a personal failing. It also suggests joy is quantifiable, that it’s something you can add to or subtract from and measure against some sort of baseline standard.
That’s all bullshit. That’s not how joy works. Joy isn’t an emotion you elect to feel; it’s a natural, unpremeditated experience. Being open to joy can be a conscious decision, but it’s not a response you can compel. You can choose not to be miserable about a given situation — or at least not to give in to misery — but you simply can’t strong-arm or manipulate yourself into experiencing joy.
The idea behind this meme is laudable. It’s saying snow will happen independent of your emotions, that it will fall regardless of how you feel about it, that snow is a natural event over which you have no control, so you may as well get some pleasure out of it. (Well, the real point of the meme is to get you to visit a website and buy snow-related sports products, which will bring joy to the business owners.) I actually like the idea behind the meme — the non-capitalist part, but the meme itself is misleading and it’s bullshit.
There are a LOT of natural events that will take place independent of your emotions and regardless of how you feel about them. Some of them are pleasant. A rainbow, for example, or the way leaves change in autumn. Other events aren’t pleasant. A flood, or a drought. An earthquake, or a mudslide, or a volcanic eruption. Or, if you live in California, a wildfire.
If you choose not to find joy in the wildfire, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of fire.
See how massively stupid that is? I’ve been through natural disasters — floods and tornadoes and hurricanes. None of them brought me joy. (That’s not entirely true; I felt a weird fierce joy at seeing a tornado, while still dreading what it could do.) I can honestly say that even while dealing with the ugly aftermath of those events, there hasn’t been a single day when I didn’t experience some sort of momentary joy.
It’s going to snow here. It’s inevitable. When that happens, I absolutely WILL feel joy watching it fall. I’ll probably feel some degree of joy when I take a walk in the snow. But I can also guarantee you I’m NOT going to feel joy when I have to shovel it off the driveway and sidewalks. There IS a certain meditative contentment in the repetitive act of shoveling, and some emotional gratification in doing it well. But that ain’t joy.