Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Joy

My sons,

The French have a lovely phrase - “la joie de vivre” - which loosely translates into the joy of living. This phrase has been floating around in my head all week, and as I sit on the deck of the S. S. Catherine, docked presently in Avignon on the Rhône River, I thought I’d share some of the thoughts that have been marinating.

What are you about?

We are constantly bombarded with a steady stream of messages telling us what we should do, how we should dress, what we should think about, and what our lives ought to look like. These mimetic models come in the form of ads trying to sell us not just a product but a lifestyle, curated and idealized Instagram photos showing us that our friends have it all, and everything in between.

So how do we find signal in all that noise? How do we find out not what others think we should do, but what we want our lives to be characterized by? How do we find that joie de vivre that allows us to live lives consistent with our values in a way that brings us a daily and sustained joy?

Look up

First, we need to look up. Someone once said that

“If you’re never looking up, you’re always just looking around”

There is immense value of having a viewpoint which transcends the mundane. Life is a series of connected moments that may at many times seem random and disconnected. It is up to us to add value and meaning to those moments such that over the course of our lives they string together to build a beautiful tapestry of our history.

By constantly looking around us and never looking up at the loftier things, we reduce our lives to the mundane and meaningless drivel of existence. However, if we deign to look up every so often and fix our eyes on the grand, we turn that mundane existence into rich and meaningful life. We begin to see our place in the grander scheme, and are able to take things in stride.

Looking up gives us context. It puts our lives in perspective. It allows us to see that we are a part of a greater whole. As the saying goes,

“If the vision is big enough, the details don’t matter”

If we’re able to see the grand story of Life with a capital “L”, then we are able to see our our lives fit into the picture, and when we’re able to do that the little bumps along the way seem to matter much less.

No matter what you see, no matter what the bigger picture looks like for you, no matter what piece of the big puzzle you believe you ought to play, live it. Run towards it. Constantly refine it. Nurture it. Engage with what you see upwards so that you can know what you value and believe and can therefore apply those things all around you.

Be present

Having a sharper view on what we’re about is but a starting point. We need to apply that understanding to our present reality.

From a young age we’re taught to think about the future. Even before children enter a hyper-competitive school system young parents are constantly trying to give their children a leg up by signing them up for enhanced learning classes, math camps, language lessons, and everything under the sun that they can manage to afford and cram into an already-too-busy schedule.

Kids are then ushered through a grueling 12 year program designed with one single purpose in mind: college acceptance into the best school that you can both afford and qualify for. The next four years after that are designed to mold you into the perfect cog to fit into the American economic machine so that you can make good money and have a wonderful life.

Well what is that wonderful life? Having a family and kids of your own of course. And once you’re past parenting your own kids through to college, you’re saving for retirement to make sure you can end life well.

Surely somewhere along the way life itself must actually be lived, right?

While none of these things themselves are bad (I’m not at all advocating for us to abandon education) they are incomplete. They are not the only important thing in life. They are not even the most important thing in life.

It is good to think about the future, to plan for it, to be prepared. However, that needs to be balanced with living in the moment and being present.

Focus on each moment

To be present, to fully enjoy that joie de vivre, we need to learn to focus on each moment and to be present in it.

It’s worth explicitly pointing out that we should only begin focusing on the moments after we’ve taken the big picture context in mind. This is because the big picture context acts as a lens through which we filter each moment and allows us to view them with the right perspective.

It is in our nature to see the worst in each moment, to see fear and danger everywhere. This is an evolutionary imperative and has worked well for millions of years in keeping the human species alive. As such, it is a trait that we automatically apply to every situation, regardless of the fact that there are no longer bears, tigers, and other natural predators out to get us.

Filtering our experiences through the big picture context allows us to strip out that initial reaction and see each moment through the lens of our values. It is through this lens that we should focus on each moment, allowing ourselves to fully feel, fully embrace, fully love, fully cry.

La joie de vivre doesn’t only mean happiness; rather, it means a richer experience of each moment, happy or otherwise. By focusing on each of these moments, by being present through them instead of thinking about the next ones, and by releasing ourselves and allowing ourselves to fully be in them, we are more able to experience a richer, more vivid, and more sublime world.

My sons, my hope for you is that you’ll be able to experience life fully, that you will have no regrets about how you responded to the situations and circumstances that life threw your way. I love you boys!


My son,

Today, you turn four. What a joy you are! You are such a beautiful, wonderful, kind, adventurous, and mischievous little guy - I love you so much! Your mom calls you my little buddy cause we do all sorts of things together. I couldn’t be happier. Much of what I’ve been learning these days I’m learning from you and with you, and I love the thought that I get to share those learnings with you here with the hopes that someday when you’re older, you’ll read them and they’ll be learnings for you as well.

When I was growing up, I read many different articles and perspectives around what love is. Love is a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice. Love is easy. Love is hard. Love is patient. Love is a million different things, depending on who you ask and what perspective you’re coming from.

While I don’t pretend to be any expert on the matter, and while I won’t attempt to give a full definition of what love is, I believe that one of the things that defines people who love strongly is that they choose to love. Regardless of your definition of love, regardless of how you experience it and what it means to you, I firmly believe that very often, love is a choice.

It’s easy to love someone when everything is going very well. It’s easy to love someone that’s very lovely, loves you back, is in sync with you and your thoughts and perspectives. It’s hard to love someone that is doing things to make themselves less lovable to you. It’s hard to love someone when they’re at odds with you, when they’re attacking you, when they’re in violent opposition to things that are at the core of your being and values.

And yet I urge you to choose love.

Whether we’re talking about an unlovable neighbor, a combative classmate, a family member currently at odds with you, or even a spouse that you’ve got a strong disagreement with; choose love. It’s hard. It takes self sacrifice and patience. It requires you to grit your teeth and not fight back. It means you have to take punches without throwing up your guard and without counter attacking.

But it will be worth it.

My prayer for you is that you are able to choose love more often than the alternatives, and that you grow to become a man that is characterized by his heart for people. We have always prayed that you be a kind person; I would urge you to go one step further and be someone that chooses to love when everyone else disagrees. Because love conquers all things. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


My son,

As your second birthday approaches, I've been thinking about  what a wonderful little guy you've become and about all the fun that we've had together, and one thing that has definitely stood out is just how happy you are.

From the moment you wake up, you're a happy, smiley, mischievous little guy. You love to play, and spend much of your life running away from me while laughing hysterically, only to run too fast, fall over, roll around on the ground, and keep laughing. Your infectious laugh can be heard all through the house at all hours of day, whether we're eating, playing basketball, banging the drums, or trying to get you to bed.

It's been a fantastic reminder to me of what it means to have child-like joy, and how incredibly easy it is to become jaded by the world, to lose the ability and desire to laugh and to have fun in many circumstances.

Why is this important? All sorts of reasons. But a few of them stand out to me as extremely important.

  1. Laughter helps diffuse even the tensest situations. Jesus says that "in this life, you will have trouble". It's not a matter of if we run into emotionally charged situations, but a question of when we encounter them. Laughter helps alleviate these situations and lets us be at our best to handle them.
  2. Joy is contagious. Not only does it lighten up your own life, but it catches others with it as well. It is a part of the equation of leadership - people are drawn to joyous people, to charismatic people, to people who have something that they want to emulate in their own lives. And everyone wants to be joyful and happy.
  3. Laughter helps us be in a mental and emotional state where we can be our best. The paragon of man is not realized when he is angry, stressed, or upset; rather, it is realized when he is of good spirit, of good cheer, and of a happy and joyful countenance.

As you know by now, I'm someone who loves to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be, and I'm positively convinced that the world was designed to be a place that's happy, joyful, and full of great adventures and experiences.

As life gets busier (and it always will), let's try to remember to find a little laughter in what we're going through. My hope for you is that you won't lose that sense of wonder, that ability to find fun and levity in the most grave of situations, and that you'll always continue to be our happy little guy.


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