Joy Is A Value

I participated with a group of teenagers this afternoon in an exercise to claim shared values for work together. A dozen high school students and a few adults passed a stick around a circle, naming values in turn. The framing question was, “What value do you want our work to embody?”

“Hard work.”




I said, “Joy.”

[I’m not part of this group’s work. I asked to come and observe, and I was invited to participate in this exercise. So I said something.]

Around we went for several minutes until the list was approaching 20 items. The facilitator then introduced an objection round where anyone could take issue with any of the values that had been identified.

Only one was.


The objection to pursuing joy as a value is that you can do good work and not be joyful. Other values on the list are more important, like honesty. If you’re having a horrible day and can’t find an ounce of joy, you can still do honest work. You can still do hard work, responsible work. You don’t need joy.

Positivity maybe. That’s the alternative the group chose. Positivity is a bloody-lipped smile. It’s an attitude. Positivity is the up-kept chin in a hailstorm.

Joy got the axe.


But joy is a value.

Of all the values statements I’ve had to write, one stuck with me, because it required me to present the value as a sentence, and it insisted the sentence be explicit enough that it would require saying “no” to certain opportunities. In practice it’s the difference between saying, “I value collaboration” (which you can say anywhere) and saying, “I want to work in close partnership with people who care about the things I care about” (which you can’t say everywhere).

So here’s my flag planted for joy:

Joyful work–work that brings me joy and allows me to bring joy to others–is the only work I want to do. It doesn’t have to be joyful every day (I am a pastor blogging during Holy Week). But if it isn’t bringing me any joy today, and I can’t remember the last time it brought me any joy, and I can’t imagine it bringing me at least some joy tomorrow,  a down payment til next week, I won’t do it–either the work is bankrupt or I am.

Of course, depression.

Of course, privilege.

Of course, necessity.

I’m just saying that insofar as circumstances are within my influence I’m choosing work where I can receive and share joy.

Every time.