“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself” – Mahatma Gandhi
Many people say that what they want out of life is simply to “be happy.” Rather than have a lot of money, or possessions or status, want they want is to feel good about their life and to enjoy it. But I think that what they really mean is that they want to be joyful; they want to experience joy in their lives.
The distinction that I’m making is that happiness is a fleeting emotion, much more specific than joy. Many people see happiness as an absence of “negative” emotions; a state where they don’t feel anger, sadness or pain. Unfortunately, this perspective misses that these emotions are part of a full life. There is no such thing as only having “positive” emotions all the time.
I feel happy when I realize that there is a new episode of “The Office” on in half an hour. I feel happy when the pizza delivery person knocks on the front door. These are specific, situational occurrences that give me a temporary feeling of pleasure. But the feeling won’t last forever.
On the other hand, I feel joy when I’m writing. Even though I may be struggling with the ideas I want to communicate or the words that will carry those ideas, I enjoy the writing in and of itself. Expressing myself creatively in that way is very fulfilling.
I think the concept of Flow illustrates this nicely. In Flow, a person is engaged so fully with an activity that they lose sense of time and space. There are several characteristics of a Flow state, including the fact that the activity must be challenging, and also that the activity is enjoyable in and of itself. If you have ever had a Flow experience it’s a very fulfilling state to be in, but notice that Flow involves both struggle (challenge) and joy (en-joy-ment). It is the combination of these two feelings that creates an experience that most people find highly desirable.
Feeling pain and discomfort are not opposed to fulfillment. Struggling with challenges does not mean you can’t feel satisfied. Striving for happiness may leave you temporarily pleased, but striving for joy will leave you feeling full.
How would you describe happiness vs. joy? Or, is there any difference? Share your ideas in the comments!