Happiness Vs. Joy


Are you happy with your life? You don’t seem like it. 

I get this question every once in a while, mostly from family members who read my Facebook posts or the blog. There are one or two of them that occasionally add in “I hope you will be happy one day.” And not that there is anything wrong with asking that question or wishing that sentiment for someone else. I just don’t think it is as cut and dry as the majority of the world believes it or would like it to be. 

From a cultural standpoint, happiness is all about what you’re doing, what you own, and the people that you have in your life. We’re beaten over the head with commercials, books, and the like, while so and so claims to have all the answers (or at least the answers that they believe they need to hear). The pursuit of happiness is a lifelong journey for many, with some even making it their goal to be happy no matter what. 

As a teenager, my mom would ask me why I couldn’t just be happy. I never had an answer, because what I didn’t get at the time was how layered the whole concept really was. Not complicated necessarily, but layered. And somewhere in between my sophomore and junior year of college, I realized that maybe I was getting it all wrong. My lack of happiness was not the problem; it was my lack of joy.

Which then I began asking, what is joy? 

From my own experiences in these last two or so years, I’d say that joy is the combination of what you see or feel, but often what you see or feel that no one else does. It does not rely on circumstances that can change it any moment, but can be found in one way or another. It is often embedded in the events that shape our lives, but is most recognized when one chooses to make the ordinary into something extraordinary. Joy is not arbitrary, but authentic and real. You don’t have to hide it, because you can’t hide it. When you’re filled with joy, everyone around you is aware of it

So whenever another person pegs me as emotional or sentimental, I have been learning to let it go in one ear and out the other. On the outside I appear overly sappy, but in reality that is just my way of finding the good in what might be an incredibly sad moment/occasion. If you want to get down to the bare bones of it, joy is when you look at what’s right in front of you instead of what’s ahead. When life gets tough, it’s a way of taking the crappy aspects and molding it into something good.

A long time ago, an old friend once informed me that his New Years resolution was that he was going to be happy no matter what. If he had said that to me today, it would be very hard to resist the urge to look at him and say “that’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard.” It’s just not possible to live like that. You can be good at acting, but the act can only last for so long. At some point, the mask has to come off. 

Are you happy? 

Yes, but not in the traditional way of looking at things. I am not particularly comfortable with where I’m at in my life; there have bumps and setbacks, and I do get frustrated. I may not be exactly where I want or expected to be right now, but I have a feeling that I am where I’m supposed to be. And my goal is no longer to be happy; it’s to have joy. 

To me, joy is waking up in a place where there is no fighting or tension. It is creating something beautiful, whether it be a piece of writing or a meal. Joy is when you look into the eyes of someone you’ve just bared your soul to, and they’re filled with such compassion and understanding. Joy is the deep, unexpected conversations that come up after eating half-baked brownies and watching The Bachelorette. Joy is when you can dance with your best friends without having to be stupid-drunk or worry  about whether or not you’re going to find a guy by the end of the night. And joy is also when one of those best friends sits you down and tells you the honest, hard to hear truth; and therefore, you experience joy by setting yourself free. 

I could go on, but those are just some examples that I’ve experienced in my life. They weren’t expected or planned; rather, they just happened. That what has made them and so many other little things so wonderful. 

Please stop trying to be “happy” because it isn’t going to work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a positive outlook on life and trying to find that in any and every situation. Just remember that it’s not something that can be achieved, only lived in. 

Then again, life is not about always being happy. It’s about doing the best you can, with what you have, while you have it. 

photo credit: Jim Blob Blann via photopin cc
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