The Power of Joy


Moving to Northern England with my parents when I was ten was a time of joy in my earlier years. I moved away from a small Paris apartment -where sunbathing on the concrete rooftop of the next door indoor pool was the only connection to the outdoors-, and an abusive school teacher, to a house with a backyard, a public school 's headmaster who opened his arms, and friends (see picture). This positive environment brought me closer to who I was, and therefore to joy.

How a book on joy –deep joy that has its roots in ourselves rather than outside- has become my bible. Here are the author’s commandments—and mine too now.

When I was back home in Paris at my mom’s, last month, I picked up a book that I had first read a year and a half ago. I had bought it in the neighborhood bookstore that I sometimes visit when I’m in the area.

This time back in September 2015, I picked up the book La puissance de la joie, literally The Power of Joy (the book has been published in the U.S. under the title Happiness, A Philosopher’s Guide). Just by reading the title, I knew it was the right pick for me. I had just lost my dad, and I was recovering from breast cancer and the treatment, while navigating through my divorce. The book turned out to be a revelation.

The author, Frederic Lenoir, is a French philosopher, sociologist, and speaker who specializes in religions and spirituality. He’s been drawn by the subject for a long time. When he was a young adult, he almost became a priest before realizing that it wasn’t the right path for him.

The book is a journey that examines how history’s greatest thinkers and religious figures have defined joy and ways to experience this feeling—sustainably. So much in this book resonated deeply with me. I’ll share a few of my favorite elements.

First, Lenoir distinguishes joy from pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is always connected to an outside element and short-lived. Last weekend, I enjoyed a great dinner with friends. We ate delicious home-made food, danced, and talked and laughed. That’s it. It was pleasurable in the moment. Now it’s gone. The author explains that happiness is a state of being, not an emotion. We build our happiness by finding balance. It’s kind of a work in progress, “an intellectual construction,” says Lenoir. Joy is different. It’s a deep and intense emotion that touches our heart, body and mind. Joy surpasses us. It can be stimulated by the outside and, most importantly, also by ourselves. According to Lenoir, we can experience joy at all times even during the grieving and suffering we encounter in our lives.

Being present is one of the doorways to joy. Being attentive to what we experience, whether it’s a walk in nature, playing with kids, listening to a friend. Early the other morning, I was facing the window of my yoga room while doing a series of sun salutations when I became aware of the sunset -amazingly red, pink and yellow, before my eyes. Suddenly, I became fully present to the flow of my sun salutations and was filled with a heightened vitality as I made that conscious connection between myself and the beauty of nature.

I reconnected with my Italian heritage, last June, in a trip to Northern Italy. When I was there, I deposited something that belonged to my family and that I needed to let go of. Months later, I found it was the suffering my mom and her siblings had endured as kids growing up in Cassino, in Southern Italy.

The book also introduces us to the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who was the champion of joy and gave the emotion the most thought. This thinker came to the conclusion that each time you grow in the direction of your true self is when you experience joy. Additionally, each time you move away from what stops you of being your true self--leave a job that’s not fit for you, a toxic relationship, conflict, etc.--you move closer to joy.

The “joie de vivre” also comes from connecting with others. Once you do the introspection work to know your deeper self and your true needs, Lenoir says, the right people will come to you and you can then experience and enjoy the connection with others, in a way that’s good for you.

Finally, Lenoir tells us to let go and go with the flow. Has a difficulty come up in your personal life or social environment that you can’t change? Let go and say yes to life by accepting the situation for what it is, and organically move into what life drives you to do. Marching in the Women’s March on January 21st, in Atlanta, in unity with hundreds of cities around the world was the prime recent example of cultivating joy in the midst of adversity for me.

At Atlanta's March on Jan. 21. One of things I love about the U.S. is the incredible diversity I've found here. My friends are American, Bosnian, Columbia, Croatian, Danish, French, Peruvian, Serbian, South African, Swiss, Uruguayan, and more.

How about you? How are you creating your own personal joy?


Breathe Move Believe


Whatever we believe in, Yoga brings us closer to our mind, body and spirit, as well as to something bigger than us. All for the sake of healing and thriving. Here's how.

I've been recently thinking about how faith helps us heal. Some of us believe in God, a prophet or an unnamed force, others are attached to love or their own willpower, and so on. Whatever our belief system, it helps us surpass difficult circumstances and ourselves.

Faith was never part of my consciousness as a child. My mom is a non-practicing Catholic and my dad was an atheist. When I was ten, they both did their best to explain God to me, and imparted that I could always choose my religion –if any- once I was a grown up. A few years later, I asked my parents to sign me up to a Catholic teen summer camp in the beautiful mountainous region of Auvergne. At school, I had made friends with practicing Catholics, and was hoping to connect with their religious traditions. I had fun camping in a beautiful nature with my friends, while nothing much happened for me on a religious level.

It took almost 30 years for things to change. Being diagnosed with my first cancer and discovering yoga blew the lid open on my blockages to belief. The shock of the illness opened the door to my vulnerability, while yoga helped me undo stress, unknot tensions, and unite my body and mind.

At times, I also started experiencing -just like any person who practices yoga-, what Garrett Sarley, a senior teacher at Kripalu, the U.S. largest yoga center, calls “integrated functioning”. That’s when what you think, what you feel, what you say, and what you do are all the same and aligned.

This alignment, which is a powerful realm, started giving me access to insights on what I felt at the deepest level, on how to move forward, and on my connection to something bigger than me.

Today, I believe in the universe and its natural flow, in the power of joy and the acceptance of life -all of life- including its sorrows, which are opportunities to become more of who we are.

With my dad, entering the protestant church, in the Paris neighboring countryside, where I got married in 2007. By then, I was a regular yoga practitioner and had come closer to my spirituality.

My «faith» has even guided me in making life changing medical decisions. In 2014 when I was faced with my second breast cancer, a medical panel made up of twelve experts -doctors, radiologists, and more- all met to determine the best treatment option for me. After much discussion, they collectively agreed that a mastectomy was the way to go. For me, that option felt physically, emotionally and spiritually inadequate. I knew in my gut and in my soul that it wasn't what I needed. Against all odds, I refused it and decided for a lumpectomy instead. My choice came from within and from that something bigger than me. Something that I listened to and trusted. Today even my oncologist, who was part of the original panel and against my choice back then, is happy about my decision and results.

May 2017 bring you integrated functioning, and that deeper connection to yourself and, why not, to that something bigger than you.

The book La Puissance de la Joie ("The Power of Joy") is my bible. Written by Frederic Lenoir, a French philosopher and spiritual teacher, it offers a personal development path based on the vital power and wisdom of joy that also embraces life's griefs.