Joy & Happiness

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Joy is unspeakably more than Happiness.
Happiness washes over us;
it is granted by the fates.
Joy, on the other hand, blossoms from within.
Joy is simply a good season of the heart;
Joy is the most extraordinary gift we have in our power.”

  • Rainer Maria Rilke – from a letter to Marianne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, Dec. 5, 1914. Translation/interpretation by Tammy Bosler, PhD, Jan. 2, 2022.

The original German version of this poem (see below) was sent to me by a German-speaking Yoga student at the start of 2022.  She knows my appreciation for Rilke and, in this poem, she saw the conversation we shared in the fall about joy and happiness in the context of our Yoga practice.

Interestingly, I didn’t initially see the connection.  You see, the German word for happiness, “Glück,” is also the word for ‘Luck’.  My native English-speaking mind chose the word ‘luck’ rather than ‘happiness’ upon my first reading.  This misunderstanding was strengthened by glancing at other translations online which also used ‘luck’.  However, sitting with these words and looking up some details of German grammar, I see more clearly what my native German-speaking friend saw immediately.

Rilke was never speaking of luck as we think of it in English.  In German the association with luck and happiness is clearer than in English because they are the same word – Glück.  Happiness, he declares, is a matter of luck.  Happiness is a gift of circumstance granted to us by good fortune that is beyond our control.  Consider how ‘easy’ happiness can be when everything is working, health is good, we feel loved, etc.  And, how given different circumstances, the illusive happiness can melt away.

The nature of Joy, on the other hand is far more personal.  It is a visceral response to what touches our heart.  It arises within, but what is more, we have the capacity to cultivate joy if we have the capacity to allow ourselves to feel it….. and, we can be gentle with ourselves when we cannot feel joy in a given moment.

But in Rilke’s expression of Joy, he also expresses the transient nature of this inherent quality.  It may be within our power to cultivate, but we in no way control it!  It comes and goes like the seasons.

The paradox of guiding and letting go is the nature of Joy.  We cannot hold to tightly to it, but we must put effort into this powerful tool to be able to wield it and offer it to others.

Sweet Rilke.

(Original German)

Freude ist unsäglich mehr als Glück, Glück bricht über die Menschen herein, Glück ist Schicksal – Freude bringen sie in sich zum Blühen, Freude ist einfach eine gute Jahreszeit über dem Herzen; Freude ist das Äußerste, was die Menschen in ihrer Macht haben.

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