Post-Platform Reflection: “Learning to Be Joyful”

[This is the first of what we hope will be a regular feature on this blog: brief reflections by the Leaders on recent Platform Addresses, posted when the podcasts become available. Find the rest of the reflections here.]

James began his Platform Address on “Learning to Be Joyful” with a reflection on emojis. I get joy from the joy that James gets from social media. Because of the nature of news media, we tend to hear more bad than good about social media, and certainly it has its downsides and even dangers (just as everything has, even flowers!). James is a good example for me of someone who makes a very thoughtful effort to use social media to increase joy in his life and others. By sharing his thoughts, feelings, and his life openly on social media, he builds relationships and encourages others. I can totally see why the joy emoji is his favorite.

I am not a big social media user; I still make a smiley face with punctuation because I worry the emoji will somehow show up as the wrong thing on someone else’s tech. As a former English Major (in Writing, no less), learning that the joy emoji was “word” of the year made me want to weep, in a not-joyful way : ) But as an Ethical Leader I’m glad to know that people are sharing so much joy on social media, especially given the contagious nature of emotions, including joy.

I actually didn’t know that the smiley face with the tears spurting out was supposed to mean joy. I thought it just meant laughing really hard, which can be an aspect of joy, but sometimes also seems not that appropriate to what people are posting about, so I’m glad to know what it really means. I guess new “words” of all kinds can take time to be widely understood.

I wondered why I didn’t recognize the joy emoji as meaning joy. I am a happy-crier. James shared some scientific theories about why people cry when we’re happy. For me, I feel, it’s a release of tension: sometimes a conscious tension, like when I’ve been worried about something or someone and it turns out that everything is okay; sometimes an unconscious tension, like when I see evidence of the goodness and bravery of people—I feel some of my existential angst lifted and that life is wonderful, despite its difficulties. Still, I think for me, happy crying doesn’t have quite so big a smile as the joy emoji. It’s interesting how sensitive humans are to facial expressions—we can see a human face in pretty much anything with three circles in a triangular shape—and how we read intentions into expressions that may or may not be there.

A couple more thoughts inspired by the Platform Address: I was reminded that although joy is contagious, what brings people joy varies a lot. For instance, unlike James, I would rather go to the dentist than to a wedding. And I particularly like the idea that joy is not just a spontaneous feeling that happens to us, but that we can choose to cultivate and spread joy—by serving others, focusing on gratitude, and sharing joy, through emojis or actual words : )