"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." George Bernard Shaw
What is Joy?
“Joy is the emotional dimension of the good life, of a life that is both going well and is being lived well” Miroslav Volf
Joy can be defined as a feeling of extreme gladness, pleasure, or lifting of our spirits arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction. We may experience joy in a variety of ways e.g. tearfully, euphorically or quietly and calmly etc.
“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be filled with joy.” Anonymous
The feeling of joy can either be experienced passively or actively. Passive joy involves a sense of calmness and a feeling of contentment with things as they are. Active joy is more intense and involves a desire to share one’s feelings with others and needs a connection. Often the connection is with other people, but it can also be with pets, the environment – specifically nature, creativity, etc.
"There is joy to be found in almost every moment, you simply need to be willing to expand your vision to see it." Rita Schiano
We feel joy in our bodies because of the release of neurotransmitters ( dopamine and serotonin) in our brains. These tiny chemical “messenger” cells transmit signals between neurons and other bodily cells. When we experience joy it has a positive effect on us; it boosts our immune system, reduces feelings of stress and pain and supports longevity and increases our sense of wellbeing. When we feel joyful we also tend to have more energy and make better choices to support a healthy lifestyle.
Is there a difference between Joy and Happiness?
“Joy; the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” David Steindl-Rast
Happiness and Joy are closely linked at a first glance but in fact when you reflect on them there appear to be distinct differences. The biggest it seems to me is that happiness is more transient and needs external factors to exist i.e. we need something to happen to us in order to feel happy whereas we can always experience joy in the present moment despite the circumstances.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt
There is a lot of emphasis on ‘the pursuit of happiness’ and there are lots of books written about it, but discovering how to access the joy within us seems to be a more beneficial cause as it is not a transient experience, rather something that is increasingly revealed over time and creates a real depth and solid foundation to our lives and has the ability to enhance other emotions we experience. Joy is a more conscious choice that strengthens our spirits and we can experience it no matter what.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. ” Thich Nhat Hanh
We have a vast reservoir of ‘joyful potential’ within us to experience peace and contentment. Joy is the very essence of who we are. We are all born with joy inside us; it is our natural state of being. When babies are born, we often refer to them as a “bundles of joy.”
That innate joy is inside us all, but it gets lost as we grow up and learn new responses to the life around us i.e. to take things personally, to make assumptions, to hold on to past hurts and betrayals as a basis to not let things go etc.
Instead of looking within, we learn to base our happiness on external factors e.g. our relationships, our possessions, our status in life etc. then we spend our time looking externally to recreate and experience our original peace, happiness and joy which can never give us a permanent experience of true original joy.
How can we experience Joy?
"When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” Gautama Buddha
If we want to experience joy in our life, we have to be able to step outside of our “me-centred” universe and become part of a cause that is much larger than us; one that brings a greater good to a greater community.
“The joy that isn’t shared dies young” Anne Sexton
Positive social connection is important. Every choice we make is influenced by the people in our lives. If we change our life influencers for the better, i.e. by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people then we can dramatically increase our chances for happiness and joy. As we share our joy with each other, we lift each other up, expand our mindset and grow healthier, happier, more positive, optimistic, energised and motivated
We can increase our sense of joy by increasing the activities that bring us joy
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” Jean Shinoda Bolen
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day". Henri Nouwen
I listened to an interesting podcast recently called What good are positive emotions ? with Barbara Frederickson
One of the things I took away from this podcast was the idea of intentionally creating opportunities to experience moments of joy and the importance of savouring these moments to prolong them when we do experience them rather than rushing on looking for our next fix.
In the summary by Dr Michelle McQuaid, she suggests to help us prioritise positive emotions we can start by looking for 'little ripples of joy' (eg by listening to a favourite song) and also to look to programme in 'big waves of joy' (e.g. by reading a book, sharing time with people, going for a walk in nature).
“If we can just let go and trust that things will work out they way they're supposed to, without trying to control the outcome, then we can begin to enjoy the moment more fully. The joy of the freedom it brings becomes more pleasurable than the experience itself.” Goldie Hawn
We are the co-authors of our life and we, alone, have the responsibility to embrace and manage the full spectrum of our emotions (whilst actively seeking the good and positive) and defusing unhelpful emotions rather than dwelling on the negative.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo F. Buscaglia
It is useful to develop a habit of gratitude for everything we encounter because everything shapes our life and contributes to our growth along our journey.
“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran
When we are grateful for the little things as well as the big things then our positive perspective allows us to become more aware of the bigger picture, contributes to a growth mindset and increases our sense of joy.
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” Russel M. Nelson
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What can I be excited about today?
Who can I thank or express gratitude towards today?
Which people are positive influences in my life?
“If you can’t find joy in the path you are on and what you are working toward now, how do you expect to find joy once you get there?” Anonymous
If you are interested in some more reading on the subject, here are a few links to get you started:
“Go find your joy Whatever that is, go find your joy. Are you going to have a good day or are you going to have a great day? Because it’s completely up to you.” Sandra Bullock