I respect the hell out of Marie Kondo.
She’s taken the world by storm and inspired hundreds of thousands of people with femininity, lightness, and clarity in a masculine world that often favors power, action and growth. She’s turned something “soft” like cleaning your house into a portal of self-reflection that resonates with anyone at any walk of life.
What she’s perhaps most famous for is the idea that we can acknowledge what to hold onto and what to let go of by asking ourselves a simple question- “Does this spark joy?” In an effort to declutter, if you pick up an item in your home, ask yourself that question and feel that faint firecracker fizz of “joy” in your stomach, keep it. If you don’t feel joy, you donate, recycle, or toss it. This method encourages us to keep in the house only that which makes us joyful, and to ditch the rest with love and light.
This question successfully cuts through the noise of “Oh, I should keep this because (insert nostalgia/sentiment/someday I’ll use it here)” and simplifies the whole decluttering process. Even if there’s years of memories (or baggage) associated with an object in our home, true joy is easy to locate if it’s real and hard to fabricate if it’s not.
The question of “Does this spark joy” is quick, and it works. But in my experience, joy is a fleeting feeling. Same with happiness, bliss, nirvana. These are elusive concepts that peak and valley over the course of a day, and because they are quick as a flame, it doesn’t feel sustainable to chase them. Happiness comes and goes and that’s okay- if we were all happy, all the time, we wouldn’t have room for other richer emotions to make meaning out of our happiness. As my dad always says, “You can’t enjoy the highs without the lows.”
The “Does this spark joy?” question is good. But I wonder if we could look to something more sustainable to stay our minds on. Something like: “Does this bring me peace?”
Peace, I’ll admit, is not as sexy as joy. Joy is an all-encompassing emotion so strong it doesn’t leave room for any other thinking. It’s attractive because it takes us out of reality by swallowing us whole. To me, the pursuit of joy has been the pursuit of the antithesis of depression. I want to feel happy and unburdened, and I want to feel it wholly.
Peace is trickier. It doesn’t eclipse every other thought. Being truly peaceful means having the ability to roll an idea around in your head that causes anxiety, anger, or sadness and still keep your cool. Peace is the ability to be okay with that thought hanging out for a while, being content with not knowing how to make it go away. Joy is easy to chase because it frees us of all of our painful thoughts. Peace doesn’t need to be chased. It coexists with what is, right here, and right now.
When I think of my most joyful moments as a kid, running through the grass with my younger brother and carefully descending the ladder steps (#precocious) into the clear blue pool, I certainly feel joy. But if I dig deeper into why that memory is special, it’s because I felt true peace in these moments. I was present as a child, not knowing any responsibility, only understanding this moment here, feeling the thrumming of Life Itself in every moment. That’s where true peace lives.
In my adolescence and adulthood, my happiest moments are those moments in which I felt truly excited- I’m going to Spain! I signed my first client! I got the job! But I also vividly remember the peace that came after that excitement, quiet and still- the reflection of what is, the grateful recognition that this is my life, and these are the results of my actions.
Thoughts and emotion can swing, dramatically, from one end of the spectrum to another over the course of the day, and our thoughts literally never stop. Whether they’re happy, sad, angry, annoying, or anything in between, they’ll always be there, taking up space. Even if joy takes over, all things come to an end- the emotion will leave, and we’ll return to our nonstop thoughts. To make our minds truly peaceful, to tune into the energy of What Is, we see things as they are, free of colorful emotions that may sour an otherwise neutral experience. Reality becomes real and the plexiglass between us and it, i.e. our bajillion thoughts, starts to fall away.
When I pick up a letter from an old boyfriend, it makes me happy to read the sweet words and reflect on that time. But it doesn’t bring me peace- it’s not What Is. When I look at a drawing from a friend hanging on my wall, it brings me joy that my friend thought of me and that she exists. But it also brings me a deep peace to know that I am here, on this planet, with friends who love me like that. I feel grateful and peaceful and carry that with me throughout my day.
Now, I don’t deny that the world would be kind of boring if we were all sleepy-eyed and zenned out and peaceful all the time. The flavor of emotions we can experience as human beings is special, rare, and should be recognized and appreciated. But I do think there’s room to bring a little peace into the equation, to focus on something sustainable. Peace, that piece of you within that never falters in its perspective on What Is. Peace, the quiet humming beneath all emotions big or small.
The next time you ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?”, ask if it brings you peace as well. Because both can exist, but only one will truly last.