There are lots of articles and discussions about the pursuit of happiness. There are even movies about it. But I am always struck with the two words: happiness and joy. I question, is there a difference between the two? If so, why? What is the more meaningful word? How does one pursue either happiness or joy? More importantly, is it worth pursuing?
A dictionary definition of happiness is “a state of well-being, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” The definition of the word “rejoice,” from which our word “joy” comes, is “to feel great delight, to welcome or to be glad.”
Perhaps since I am coming from a Christian point of view, I see joy as a more theological and eternal state of mind whereas I see happiness as a secular and temporal one. In this life so much is advertised that an object- a new car, clothing, drink, home- will be the thing that make us happy and provide the state of well-being. The question becomes when the external item, aka the object, is no longer new or goes away. What happens to happiness?
I see joy as something that is more permanent. One can be internally joyful even in the midst of external chaos. Joy appears to be at peace with the external surroundings. If the surroundings change, joy remains the same.
According to the dictionary definitions, it doesn't appear to be that much of a difference between the two words. But I think so. Happiness might be a state of being, but it seems almost passive. It appears to be reactionary. I am happy when I experience something pleasurable or satisfactory. Kind of like the thermometer. The thermometer registers the temperature around it. It doesn't have any input in changing the degrees, just reacts to the air molecules.
Joy on the other hand is active, a conscious state of being, an action of "to welcome or to be glad". One has to be proactive to practice joy. It reminds me of the thermostat. A thermostat is set for the temperature one wants. The thermostat controls the environment (turning the heat or AC on and off depending upon the temperature). In a sense it is pro-active in achieving the results.
I know that my example of our Jack Russell is a little far fetched. (pardon the pun) However, I do think we can learn a lot from animals and their response to their environment. Sure, all animals react to what is going on around them: put food down in front of them and they will eat, call them to come for a treat or a scratch behind the ears and they will come. Yet, our pets seem to take pleasure, almost rejoicing in whatever situation is put before them. I don't think there is too much thought on what has happened in the past (certainly, there is no consequential learning when the dog in question eats something disagreeable- like a bowl of rising dough- and attempts to do it again forgetting the past groaning and discomfort.) Nor is there too much thought to the future.
Our dogs live in the present. They enjoy each moment as it arises.
So too can we consciously choose to live in the moment and to proactively seek joy. I am choosing this day to enjoy each moment. Whether that is being stuck in traffic, attending at a difficult aka boring meeting, having to do a disagreeable work task or spending time with one of my favorite Jack Russells. I am determined to learn how to pursue and practice joy in my life: to be present and mindful of each moment and to proactively choose to be glad regardless of the circumstances.
What about you?