When asked to write a piece about joy, at first I tried to link it to my work as a mental health professional. I started to think about what this word, and what this idea, means to me, my family, my friends and the people I work with. I then started to realise that to all of these people it means very different things, related to any number of experiences and events that have occurred over the course of the individual's life. I would find it impossible to collate the endless information about others' joy, and crystallize it into something coherent on paper so I thought I would instead talk about my own sources of joy, and the way that I experience it. To me joy is so much more than being happy or contented, it is the surge of positive feeling which comes when I feel that I am a small part making up a bigger whole, and this leads to a sensation of being overwhelmed by feeling, and at the same time feeling safe and at peace.
The first time I vividly remember this experience was during a choir practice as a teenager. We were learning Verdi's 'Requiem' and I remember the moment when all the choral parts seemed to come together. I love singing on my own, and in groups, but there is nothing quite like the feeling of a full choir all singing in 4 part harmony together, and the sense of wellbeing this promotes. It is so much more than the sum of its parts, and you feel as if you have transcended what you could achieve as an individual. Music, for me, speaks to a very primal and visceral part of myself. It is a communication of feeling that can bring me to tears of joy, or of sadness, and I would be lost without it.
But I can feel this way when alone, or at least, without the company of other people. From a young age I have visited many ancient historical sites across Britain and Europe, and my interest in this area has grown as the years have passed. One of my favourite sites which I have visited on a number of occasions is Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire. I have visited this site with my family, my friends, and latterly my husband, but always try to take a few moments by myself. I find it incredible that I am even able to visit these stones, and the pre-historic site which has been preserved for thousands of years. It gives you a sense of your own connections with the past, and the continuing importance of coming together. It also reminds me of the central themes inherent in most pagan religions around the wheel of the year and respecting your natural surroundings. Whenever I go to Avebury there is almost a hum of natural energy and joy that runs through my body from my feet. I can't quite explain it, but I always come back feeling replenished and revitalised.
To try and link this back to my work, I thought about the young people I see who struggle to experience happiness, and even more so joy. For some, at least for a short while, life can feel like an uphill struggle towards an undefined end, and often we think about looking for meanings or goals in order to help someone back on track. What I have thought about when writing down my own experiences of joy, is that they do not necessarily have to have meaning or goal, in fact, that is what makes those moments so important.
Dr. Emily Clavering-Lee SpR in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry