Joy Without the Hangover

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The “trust in our fresh, unbiased nature brings us unlimited joy– happiness is completely devoid of clinging and craving. This is the joy of happiness without a hangover” (Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You, 2009).

To experience the unlimited joy of every moment, we trust the innate goodness of our open heart. Joy is no more an adrenaline rush than it is an attempt to keep a moment from passing, no hanging on or yearning allowed, only gratitude. It is a matter of equanimity in all matters in all moments.

In revisiting Buddhism through Pema Chödrön, I am reminded of just how basic joy is and just how difficult. As Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Nowhere is this more evident than in practicing the “four limitless qualities” of joy, equanimity, love, and compassion where ego never dares to tread.

In this past week, I knew moments of suffering in the Buddhist sense–any feeling or action outside the four limitless qualities–I also knew moments of happiness. In either, I did not want the hangover of holding onto the happiness or avoiding the suffering. I just wanted to be.


Unexpected as the events were, I practiced staying and not straying from each moment, difficult as it was. Equanimity in any moment—trying to remain unbiased—allows us to receive what each moment offers. We look within ourselves to our open heart for our compassionate response.

In opening ourselves to our own worth, each of us finds our way “to the truth that we have always been warriors living in a sacred world” (Chödrön). Within our truth is “the ongoing experience of limitless joy” if we will just trust ourselves within that experience.

At the beginning joy is just a feeling that our own situation is workable. We stop looking for a more suitable place to be” (Chödrön). When we stop looking outside for what is inside us, we immerse ourselves in reality. No matter what is occurring, we are alive, and we rejoice in all that we have and all that we are for “it is easy to miss our own good fortune” (Chödrön).

The practice of unlimited joy is our life’s work in every moment we have. “Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts… Everything we see, hear, taste, and smell has the power to strengthen and uplift us” (Chödrön). All we have to do is show up and be amazed, moment by moment.

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As unique as each one of us is, we are all connected in our suffering and happiness of our everyday lives, our source of unlimited joy.  “In a nutshell, when life is pleasant, think of others. When life is a burden, think of others. If this is the only training we ever remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and everyone else as well” (Chödrön).

Our connection with one another is the expression of our love for the unlimited joy inherent in life, in whatever way it is served to us. We keep life simple, as it is, and not simpler, making it something it is not.

This simple way of training with pleasure and pain allows us to use what we have, wherever we are, to connect with other people. It engenders on-the-spot bravery, which is what it will take to heal ourselves and our brothers and sisters on the planet” (Chödrön).

To face every moment with equanimity is not always possible but doing the best we can with what we have lessens any hangover and increases unlimited joy.