Joy and the Other

Yesterday I posted about hedonism as life purpose.  One of the key elements mentioned in living a life of joy (not mere happiness) was the idea of a kind of reciprocity of delight.  Fulfillment seems to require more than delight for one self, but some other in which to delight and be delighted.  To become your true self as an individual it requires some other to be differentiated from, to collaborate with, and to enjoy.

That Other need not be only human.  There is a sense in which the ultimate Other is something far broader and greater than any one person.  When you feel like the world itself is collaborating with you, that is when you feel true joy.  Seeing reality as something not in opposition to you, but working with you.  The religious might call it divine will.  The non-religious might consider it living in line with the laws of the universe.  Astrologer Rob Brezsny calls it pronoia, “The suspicion that the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.”

That all sounds a bit too over-the-top, so let’s bring it home to a less sweeping context.  Consider acts of creation.  Painting, storytelling, songwriting, and the like.  There is a meaningful sense in which, in a state of flow, more is going on than just the creator producing.  The page gives back.  You develop a theme and play it and the music doesn’t just come from you, it gets right back in you and inspires you even as it is inspired by you.  If you give yourself to the art fully it gives something back to you.  In a romantic relationship the same effect is at work.  Being in love requires more than just admiration of another.  Your feelings are enhanced by the knowledge and evidence that you are adored in return.

This need for an Other in order to experience joy is radically individualistic.  It’s the opposite of an absorption of unique individuals into a universal blob.  In order to experience this reciprocal relationship with reality we have to get to know our unique selves.  We must be so differentiated that we cannot mistake anything or anyone else’s purposes for our own.  Then we can fully experience the joy of our own purpose by interacting harmoniously with others.