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Happiness vs. Joy

Yipeeee!!!
Creative Commons License photo credit: lepiaf.geo

“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!

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Positively Present May 22, 2009, 10:49 am

    Really interesting! I’ve never thought about the difference between joy and happiness…Thanks for posting this and getting the wheels of my brain turning!

    Positively Present’s last blog post..5 things happy people do

  • Carrie May 22, 2009, 11:09 am

    Hi Amanda 🙂

    I agree that happiness and joy are different and that happiness is circumstantial. But I believe that true Joy can only come from knowing Jesus as savior.

    Galatians 5:22-23 (New International Version)
    22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

    1 Peter 1:8 (New International Version)

    8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

  • Blynn May 22, 2009, 3:00 pm

    Happiness is a choice you make everyday you wake up. You choose to be happy or you choose to be miserable by other choices you make. The choice of happiness is a direct result of personal responsibility. If we ignore it, we will be miserable. If we accept it, we choose happiness. Happiness is : a state of well-being and contentment. How can we be content if we are not responsible for ourselves and our actions? Joy is a blessing from God out of His grace. True joy has its source in our Creator.

  • Amanda Linehan May 22, 2009, 10:08 pm

    Hi Positively Present – Hopefully it wasn’t too much for a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. Haha…

    Hi Carrie! – Thanks for your comment! And for the inspiring passages. 🙂

    Hi Blynn – Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I think the idea of choice is important for happiness and joy. Certainly, we want to be receptive to both.

  • Alive & Seeking May 25, 2009, 7:03 pm

    Joy and happiness don’t have to be connected together. Sometimes not doing the joyful thing is what leads into bigger happiness. For example, drinking alcohol might make you a bit cheery at first but you can ask yourself in the morning if you’re really happy..

    Confusing feelings and happiness together is actually quite a new phenomenon. In my opinion the best writings about happiness come from the ancient Greece, from Aristotle to be exact. He stated that happiness is the same as being excellent at being human; it’s a mission. That may cause joy, that may cause pain.

    But like the happiness of a spider is about the spider making its web, human happiness is about people working on things that people work on.. what those things are depends on so many things. One thing I can say is that people do not make webs. People are creative beings, and the happiness of an individual seems to contain the possibility to be creative.

    Anyway, this was a nice post to read, thanks!

    Alive & Seeking’s last blog post..Envy

  • Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching May 25, 2009, 8:30 pm

    Thanks, I think this is an important message. What came up for me was how joy happens when we actually find the process of what we’re doing fulfilling, rather than just the product — the money and prestige of our career, for instance. Unfortunately, many of us don’t see the possibility of fulfillment from anything but the product of what we do, and so we seek temporary, instant gratification in the way you talked about.

  • Amanda Linehan May 26, 2009, 9:34 pm

    Hi Alive & Seeking – Thanks for your comment! That’s interesting…I have never thought that happiness and feelings might not be the same thing. You have given me something to think about. Also, I agree wholeheartedly about human beings finding happiness through creation. I think this is crucial to happiness and fulfillment in life. Thanks for you ideas.

    Hi Chris – Yeah, I think when you do find fulfillment in the process of life, joy comes much easier (happiness too). When you are always looking for a specific result, the possibility of disappointment is much higher. 🙂

  • Matt July 14, 2009, 8:04 pm

    It is the rare human who has no purpose but feels great joy. It is equally hard to find a person who helps another but feels no purpose. However, the person who does the least, who yields the most, takes the crumb and leaves the loaf is always the Saint. the Buddha, the Seer. Why?

  • Amanda Linehan July 16, 2009, 8:04 pm

    Hi Matt – Absolutely agree with your first two sentences. Purpose, joy, and helping others are definitely tied together. Your question, however, still has me thinking. 🙂

  • Brian Dickerson April 12, 2011, 5:44 am

    “Happiness if for pigs.” ~Dad

    Dad grew up on a farm and had some interesting ideas about life, purpose, and fulfillment. Pigs are happy, he observed, there in the sty with slop and garbage. Joy comes with the journey, though. Choosing the selfless path, facing the difficult task, doing for others; joy is the reward for a willing heart.

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