Joy versus Happiness
Over the past three issues of this newsletter I have written about “What Is Happiness?” and “How Can I Find Happiness?” (Parts 1 and 2). As I researched and wrote, I kept running into what I considered to be a problem until just today. The problem (as I saw it) was that Happiness and Joy were considered to be synonyms in every dictionary I consulted and as identical in most of the quotations I found. That just didn’t resonate with me as being correct – at least not in my experience. Granted, they are related, but I felt them to be quite different from each other. For a while, I concluded that, since there are varying degrees of happiness, perhaps joy is just a quantitatively extreme form of happiness. However, I didn’t find that conclusion to be at all satisfying. To me, Happiness and Joy are qualitatively very distinct.
As I write this article, I have just finished washing the dinner dishes after a full day of cooking for our Thanksgiving holiday meal. Funny thing about taking showers and washing dishes: you are immersed in water (which Spirit uses for many purposes, including communication), and you are doing something that doesn’t require much thinking regarding the task at hand. This combination helps Spirit to “get the message through” with what we often call intuition or inspiration.
As I cleaned the plates and silverware, it was impressed on me that the reason so many people (and “authoritative” at that) use these terms interchangeably is that either they haven’t really experienced joy in their lives or that it was relatively short-lived (as states of happiness frequently are). They just didn’t understand what they were experiencing and didn’t really think about it. Well, I have experienced profound joy on several occasions, often for extended periods (days, even weeks at a time), and I frequently have thought about it in some detail, especially while in the shower, doing dishes, watering my garden, etc. To my delight, as my own understanding of happiness and joy increased, I discovered that my thoughts were shared by others and generally expressed much more eloquently than mine.
Personally, I have found that describing real joy is much more difficult than experiencing it. To me, however, the following quote sums it up quite nicely:
• “Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside.” ~ Dr. Melba Colgrove (Self-help author)
Happiness doesn’t feel quite like that to me. It may sound a bit silly, but this past year I have more and more frequently experienced an “energetic shift” often followed by “catching” myself smiling (often grinning) outwardly for no apparent inward reason. I’ve even been asked “What’s so funny?” after chuckling to myself (so I thought) for no reason other than “I just feel like it.” Try explaining that to people without getting weird looks in return! But that is just it: I feel like I’m grinning on the inside – sometimes quietly and sometimes lively – almost giddy. Sometimes it spills over into my outward appearance and behavior. Joy goes way beyond mere “happiness.” There is nothing to compare with the experience of inward joy bubbling up from nowhere. I LOVE it!
There are other aspects of joy that I think is not shared with happiness. Joy often has no apparent cause, it just is, and there is a sense of profundity to it.
• “I certainly wasn’t happy. Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can’t earn, and can’t keep, and often don’t even recognize at the time; I mean joy.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-; American author of novels, poetry, children’s books, essays, & short stories)
• “The most profound joy has more of gravity than of gaiety in it.” ~ Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592; French essayist)
In my experience, happiness is characterized by a sort of “gaiety,” but the experience of real joy is much deeper. Even though several dictionaries mention “a feeling of well-being” as characterizing both happiness and joy, my experience of the “well-being” of joy is both unlimited and profound. Again, a much better way of expressing it than mine is this:
• “I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace – a connection to what matters.” ~ Oprah Winfrey (American actress, TV talk show host, & philanthropist)
• “. . . the basis of the Universe – both physical and Non-Physical – is one of absolute Well-Being. ~ Abraham (channeled by Esther Hicks; excerpted from the Getting into the Vortex Guided Meditation CD and User Guide)
And what is that sense of “well-being”? To me, it is a sense of absolute certainty that everything – both “good” and “bad” – is unfolding exactly as it should be, including me. It is a sense of peace, not just the contentment one often feels with happiness. And it includes a profound sense of connection with Higher Self, to “what matters” as Oprah put it.
• “There is nothing for you to go back and live over, or fix, or feel regret about now. Every part of your life has unfolded just right. And so – now – knowing all that you know from where you now stand, now what do you want? The answers are now coming forth to you. Go forth in joy, and get on with it.” ~ Abraham (channeled by Esther Hicks; excerpted from the workshop in Virginia Beach, VA, April 12th, 1997)
• “Unbridled joy is hope with even the slightest doubt removed.” ~ James W. King (Author)
So, what’s the big deal? Why all this fuss about Joy versus Happiness? What’s wrong with being happy? Well, I don’t think there is anything wrong at all with being happy. I like being happy, and I can choose to be happy even when I’m not “grinning on the inside.” The question for me is whether happiness is enough. It seems pretty clear that experiencing joy in one’s life includes happiness, but it is also clear that being happy does not ensure being in a state of joy. For those who haven’t really experienced true joy in their life, I’m sure it all seems a pointless argument. But once you have tasted joy, especially on a regular basis, mere happiness is a poor substitute. I don’t know about you, but I want it all! I believe that I (and every one of us) is entitled to experience it.
• “Remember that your natural state is joy.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (1940-; US psychotherapist, self-help advocate, author, & lecturer)
• “Everything exists for joy. There is not one other reason for life than joy. We’ve got nothing to prove to anyone, because nobody other than All-That-Is is watching. In other words, we’re not trying to get brownie points from some other galaxy. We’re not trying to get someplace else; we’re not trying to get it done, because there is no ending – we cannot get it done. Everything exists for the purpose of joy in the moment.” ~ Abraham (Excerpted from the workshop in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday, May 11th, 2002)
I can’t state my case for Joy versus Happiness any better than this:
• “Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy you have not yet begun to live.” ~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968; American religious author, clergyman, & Trappist monk)
How can we find Joy in our lives? Stay tuned next month for a few thoughts on that subject. Until then, remember that happiness is a guidepost on the road to joy. I invite you to use this holiday season in whatever way you can to practice being happy and to experience true joy, even if only for a few precious moments. Get used to this feeling and revel in it. It is your birthright.
Happy (and Joyous) Holidays!