How do you measure joy?

I’m an improviser. I run a humble improv theater in Tampa, Florida.  When my life slows down enough for me to catch my breath and take a look around, (which is pretty rare these days)-I’m surprised and fearful to see what fruit has been produced from 10 years of work in our creative community that we call The Box Theater.  At first glance, I see the flaws. I think to myself how I wish we had this or how I long for that. I think about what we just did and how we could’ve done it better and I recognize that I’m a creative critic. Somewhere early on in the development of my artistic heart and mind I formed this process always asking -how could we have done that better? I think of the next thing so quickly that I forget to be grateful for the moment that just passed.  I want a guarantee for the time, energy, and life that I am giving away. I whisper to myself, “are we growing?” 

Is there a flow chart or a bar graph that could show all the work we’ve done so far and if it has paid off? Is it worth it?

I breathe in and out and wonder how do you measure joy? Is it something you can add up? I widen my eyes and imagine there was such a thing as a laugh-o-meter where we could calculate the vibrations of nerves and muscles as someone gives a roaring belly laugh.  I envision the brain and all the neurons lighting up when it processes something beautiful, unexpected, inexplicable or truly funny. What about heartache? Can we determine the number of times we’ve cried on each other’s shoulders when life disappointed us or caused us worry or grief? Will Pythagoras’ theorem help us know the total number of times we’ve celebrated, carried or listened to each other?  How do you quantify the growth of a creative community?

I witness innovation on a weekly- sometimes daily basis. I watch people create something out of nothing.  It didn’t exist last week, earlier that day or even 10 seconds ago. People walk into my improv class. Sometimes their steps toward The Box classes are full of fear, sometimes bravery, they may come seeking friendship, or a desire for change. No matter what they come through the door with, they soon remember that they create the world around them, they have gifts to give others, and they are capable of more than they imagined. I see the intersection of people’s lives, with true friendships taking root. “It is miraculous,” my friend Brian tells me.  

I try to believe him. Is it miraculous? What does a miracle feel like when you are inside of it?

Lately, I crave the numbers. I want some guarantee that it is worth it. Is it ok to desire that? Is there something else I should be measuring? I wrestle with this because my friend also reminded me that “The wonder of the miracle wears off and people forget that it is special. They take it for granted.” I let the words sink in. I wonder what is the equation for reminding people that something is unique or precious. Does x2 plus or minus the square root of 4 performers divided by 5 late audience members and a house manager that called in sick equal special? Value? Worth?

Brian adds, “Of course it’s worth it.  The Box exists where it did not before.  You created that,” he says. It reminds me of something….

Oh yeah…..improv.

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