Joy vs. Happiness

December 14, 2010

At the A.A. meeting I went to last week, the topic was on what we do to stay happy. The person talking made it sound as if our goal is to try to be happy all the time, but I've got to voice my opinion that I think that is a shallow way of looking at life. Of course, I want to be happy most of the time, but I don't think simply being happy should be our life's goal. For one thing, happiness is a feeling and feelings are by nature transient. I don't think we are meant to go through life only feeling one kind of feeling all the time-if we were then we would be close to robotic. For another thing, many people seriously struggle with the concept of happiness due to depression or because of life circumstances beyond their control and it is condescending to suggest that if people do the right things, then they will always be happy.

On the other hand, I do think there are some qualities that are worthy of our striving to always possess and these are the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." These are the things to strive for, for these concepts are not just feelings, but actions-they are a way to live.

This brings me to joy, which is the advent meditation for the week. Joy is probably the hardest fruit for me to swallow, because I think our society equates joy with ecstasy. It reduces joy (and love) to a mere emotion, instead of an action. I haven't heard many sermons on joy, so I don't have much to go on, but here are some of my thoughts on how we can stay joyous throughout the year. To me, being joyous is like being in awe. Think of a little child at Christmas-the child looks at all the lights on a Christmas tree and is transfixed by its beauty. We seem to want children to experience life this way, but we adults are supposed to be more grounded and cynical. We are not supposed to look at life in awe, but I think that's what the spirit of joy asks us to do. We should look at Godde's creation with joy and awe and wonder. When we are living joyously, then we are grateful for what life offers us. To experience joy we have to be aware of our surroundings. We need to be aware the beauty around us and appreciate it. Likewise, we need to be aware of the struggles and injustices that are around us and figure out how we can joyously work to bring about Godde's vision to those situations.

This kind of awareness is called, "mindfulness" in recovery circles and this brings me back to how joy can be experienced even by those who experience depression. It's sometimes impossible for a person to experience happiness when one is depressed or struggling with life's uncertainty, but I do believe one can practice joy, even though depression does make it harder. In my eating disorder recovery, I was taught to be mindful of my body-to notice how eating made me feel and to notice my body's natural cues. Similarly, in my depression recovery I was taught to be present to the moment. Instead of dwelling on the future, I should focus on what I am physically feeling this moment. This helps ground me and helps me notice the little, simple joys in life. Living in joy does not mean that I am always happy, but that I am actively in awe over Godde's creation and that I am actively taking the time to be mindful of it. Many times this awareness does lead to happiness and gratitude, but not always-what it does always offer is clarity and when one's mind is clouded by mental illness this is a blessing.

Here is India Arie singing her song, "Little Things," in which she sings about mindfulness.

3 comments on “Joy vs. Happiness”

  1. Without splitting hairs on the difference between joy and happiness, I believe even the most unhappy person can find something to be grateful for if they choose to. A second of gratitude is one less second of unhappiness. Choosing to focus on the good more often leads to happiness more often. It's simply a choice we make. Becoming aware of that choice, and exercising it is the secret.

    Live Life Happy!

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