Marley Had it Right: Some Thoughts on Joy

Jacob Marley was the vehicle Dickens used to present the idea that it is not too late to change the road we are on and adopt new ways of seeing and thinking.

Annie and I think differently. No surprise. We often disagree about important topics in our relationship. Often it stems from language. other times it’s about our backgrounds and our life experiences. Our personal needs and belief systems play a role. It can also be about our age difference and the things we most want out of the time we have left. And so it goes.

It has been customary for us to assign written essays to one another when we come upon particularly difficult topics, especially ones where we seem unable to agree on even common definitions. We take our relationship to be the center of our world. It’s worth the effort.

I have been guilty of focusing upon joy as a central element in my personal goals. I use the term often and I am passionate about the idea. Today Annie is (correctly) questioning what exactly I mean by joy and what specific items it may include.

So here I sit, tasked with writing an essay on the meaning of joy. I will beg forgiveness for not following the traditional structure of the essay form. I trust my meaning will not be lost.


At its most basic level, joy is a broad uplifting euphoric sensation we experience.

Joy is brought about when a real life situation stimulates the release of blood chemicals in the brain in specific combinations.

Joy includes a spectacular range of emotions. Calm peacefulness to heart pounding excitement. The hues and saturations of joy are vast.

Joy is it’s own reward.  The release of the blood chemistry in the brain which is the underlying mechanism, is a powerful motivator. We become motivated to cause this chemical release to occur as often as possible. It has been shown repeatedly that life forms respond to this reward system which they have been gifted. It is no accident that this sounds suspiciously like addiction.

Joy is not who we are.

Joy is about the moment.

Joy is a feeling.

And feelings are the only thing we can truly know.

Everything else is only a belief.

This is what I understand about joy.


And Perspective is an essential element in one’s ability to realize joy.

Now with regard to Jacob Marley, who we believe ourselves to be, how we see ourselves, limits our perspective.


The child that has only known criticism will have a vastly more constricted world view from the one who has always been encouraged. Perspective is learned. And that which is learned is a belief. And a belief can be dispassionately examined and rationally analyzed. It can be accurate, found to be of value, or fallacious, and found to be harmful. It can also have elements of both.

A narrow perspective is self promoting. Honest examination of ideas can not occur unless one is allowed to have an open mind, to allow for the possible merit of unconventional points of view. It is essential to “dolly back”. Ask what is of enduring significance. And what will be forgotten next week. What will we look back upon and wish we had tried. Or what we will look back upon with regret. What will bring temporary discomfort? What will bring lasting satisfaction? What is the worst possible outcome? What might be gained? Could this promote joy in the long run? Or are my fears standing in the way of joy?

With humble thanks to Charles Dickens, if we restrict the possibilities we restrict the possibilities for joy as well.

“God bless us, every one.”




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