Friday, May 4, 2012
Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. ~ Henri Nouwen
The words joy and happiness are often used interchangeably however, while they do share some characteristics, there is a significant difference between the two words.
Happiness is based on external circumstances – in other words, when things go well, we feel happy. Joy on the other hand comes from a swell of emotion within us and sometimes has to be learned.
Happiness may warm us, but it is joy that creates the fierce heat of emotion that takes our breath away … it is that WOW experience of just being alive. We experience it during intense moments such as when we achieve a significant goal, overcome a particularly challenging obstacle, feel connected with others and part of something special, and see the beauty in our world and in those we love.
One way to understand the differences between joy and happiness is to think about their opposites. The opposite of happiness is unhappiness, while the opposite of joy is fear. It is simply not possible to feel total joy and total fear at the same time.
Sadly, some of us find little joy in our lives at all. Not necessarily because our lives are unusually difficult and stressful or because we are overwhelmed with responsibilities. Sometimes it’s just because we don’t know where to look for the feelings of joy or understand how to even begin to express that level of exuberance. We just don’t seem to have that mindset.
Developing the ability to recognize and feel joy is a freeing experience. As we come to recognize that joy does not depend on more money, bigger cars, or longer holidays then we begin to understand the strength of this emotion as a part of our daily lives, and as part of who we are and how we view the world.
It is possible to recognize joyful people by certain shared common traits. Joyful people are often healthy, both physically and mentally, they value strong positive relationships but they also appreciate the merit of reflective solitude, and they don’t allow the extremes of life – sudden highs or sudden lows – to influence them excessively. In other words, joyful people lead a more stable life. But these abilities do not just arrive; they have to be cultivated.
Recognizing the connection between emotional health and physical health, teaching ourselves to be joyful may be one of the greatest things we can do to enhance our overall health. However, it is important to continually remind ourselves that joy is an emotion that arises from within us and is not affected by the things that happen to us.
So, where do we begin? Since joy comes from within, rather than pursuing an emotional state, it’s really a matter of slowly cultivating the ability to appreciate the experience of joy, as you would cultivate a well-tended flower garden that radiates beauty for all who enter into it.
to be continued ...