Madison Square Park is catty-corner to the building I work in, otherwise known as the Flatiron.
Yes, that one. The iconic New York building you see in so many pictures advertising tourism and architectural marvels of the city.
You’d think this would make someone happy, this cool detail: everyday I get to go work in the Flatiron Building. Furthermore, I go to work doing an interesting and unique job, that pays relatively well and has good benefits, and gives me minimal stress while allowing a strong sense of autonomy. And it does; it does make me happy. I am grateful. But I am not joyful.
There is, I believe, personally, a noted difference between happiness and joy. Not anything so striking it’s obvious at a glance, but rather, something that has to be pondered on. From my observation, happiness is most often described as something preceded by an event or circumstance. It is a result of something. And that is not unimportant, but it’s not the same thing as feeling it organically.
Every afternoon, weather permitting, I do a lap or two around Madison Square Park in order to stretch my legs and rest my eyes, and generally remember what it is to be a human being outside in the world. Most of these strolls leave nothing to remark aside from the occasional colorful New Yorker. One such is a man who sets up large buckets of soapy water near the entrance of the park on Thursdays, and taking two sticks tied together by a long string, makes giant bubbles, inviting—encouraging—any passerby to partake in the activity. I’ve never done it, but I’ve watched others who have. They’ve mostly been amused adults, some eager for Instagram-worthy snaps, who satiate their curiousity after a couple of tries. Yesterday, however, a tiny, tiny girl and her mom walked up to the man as he was dipping his string into a bucket of water. He turned to them, and bending down slightly, addressed the girl:
“Thank goodness you’re here! I’ve been getting no bubble love today.”
I walked by smiling as I continued on my usual loop around the park. When I returned to the spot, two more children had joined. I was about to leave, but stood there for a minute watching them, studying the looks on their giggly faces, unbothered by agenda: the way their eyes widened and their mouths formed tiny O’s, as the biggest bubbles they’d ever seen stretched out from the strings and blew away into the wind. What a marvel that giant spheres of soap water could float away like that! How great to be alive and see that! As I walked away, I thought about when the last time was I felt that genuinely amazed about anything. When was the last time I had felt that kind of joy?
It’s been a while. Part of it is due to the aftermath of becoming an adult and dealing with the mounting responsibilities associated with that. But a lot of it is also my own fault. I read an article from the BBC the other day suggesting that surly people live longer and more prosperous lives, due to the simple fact that they do not suppress their negative feelings. I will be the first one to admit that my temperament is naturally more curmudgeonly than not, but on the rare occasion that I feel a true and original joy, I bat it away quickly on the assumption that it will inevitably be usurped by something displeasing. As unhealthy as suppressing negativity may be, I can’t imagine suppressing positivity does much good either. In fact, I’ve been doing it for so long I find it increasingly difficult to detect when it pops up.
But yesterday as I walked around the park and scanned my thoughts, I muffled them briefly to look up at a particular canopy of trees providing shade from high, high above the ground. I’ve always liked how the light filters through there and illuminates the green of the leaves. Even in a city as large and chaotic as New York, there is a vacuum of peace in that one spot. It really is beautiful. Walking by, I can always feel my eyes grow wider, my mouth softening into a slight O, succumbing to a majestic feeling of how small I am against the world, and how random and incredible it is that I am in it. This feeling of amazement. Joy, even.
Urban Outfitters camo tank; Zara metallic cami and earrings; Housing Works pants; H&M heels.