Reclusive author J. D. Salinger once said, “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid.”
Many people use the words happiness and joy interchangeably. While they are cousins, they are not identical; there is a difference.
There are many definitions for the word happiness; there doesn’t seem to be a consensus and so a true definition remains elusive. Nonetheless, we know it when we feel it, and we can say that it is a subjective experience of emotion that we choose to feel; it is marked by feelings of pleasure or satisfaction. It is aroused in us when something good happens, such as when we buy something for ourselves or when we get a promotion or a raise. This means that happiness comes and goes; it is fleeting. Probably the biggest distinguishing factor is that happiness is dependent on outward circumstances and sources. Happiness is about the self’s pleasure.
Like happiness, joy also eludes definition. But it is marked by something much deeper than happiness and by something much greater than ourselves. Joy is about the inner self; it is a soul-satisfying experience in which the ego is absent. It is marked by inward peace and contentment, even in the midst of trial and tribulation. Joy is constant, and with it comes a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life.
But this does not mean one is better than the other; they actually reinforce each other. They are the dynamic duo of positive emotions, working together for our highest good. But, while happiness is an emotion that is automatically felt (it is not a learned emotion), joy is to be cultivated.
So, how does one cultivate joy?
For starters, observe joyful people. Joyful people are often in good health. They are grateful and appreciative. They are generous, playful, and kind. They value relationships. They have a positive mindset. They have coping skills in place. They are creative. And they live their lives from the inside out, not the outside in. In other words, while they are appreciative of outside things, they are not dependent on such things; these things do not define them, or confine them. Instead, there is a fluidity to their lives that makes room for abundance in every area; magical experiences of synchronicity flow into their lives.
Cultivating joy is a spiritual discipline. Below are ways to nurture the joy within:
1. Choose joy. Remember, we have the freedom of choice. We can choose our responses to situations and people. We can choose joy, or we can choose fear (joy’s opposite), anger, boredom, etc. Sure, we may face challenging times, but joy is still achievable if we believe it to be.
2. See life as a gift. Life is temporary. Make the best of it. We don’t know when we will depart this life. We can either approach life passively, or we can be active participants by creating the reality we desire through our power of choice.
3. Keep a gratitude journal/scrapbook. Write down five things for which you are thankful. Each day add to it. Do this for 30 days. Read your list as a meditation each day and give thanks.
4. Get physical. Practice some kind of movement meditation. This can be yoga, tai chi, walking, etc. Regular physical exercise releases endorphins (“happy hormones”) that help to reduce stress and anxiety, the twins of negativity that lead to illness.
5. Pay it forward. According to neuroscience studies, when we give to others, the pleasure and reward region of the brain lights up. Generosity stems from a place of love. In giving selflessly, people have reported feelings of euphoria and of increased energy. Psychologists call this “helper’s high,” in which endorphins are theoretically released. Whatever the case, people have said giving makes them feel good; they touch a place that’s deeply profound.
6. Honor relationships. Make time for those whom we love. Forgive those who need forgiveness. These are acts of love that strengthen bonds.
7. Release the past. Learn from it, bless it, and then let it go. Our past does not define us.
8. Maintain a positive attitude. Studies have shown that negative and positive emotions affect our physiology and psyche. Fear, anger, and sadness, the unholy trinity of negativity, can have devastating effects on our minds and bodies, leading to all kinds of ailments and illnesses. Joy and happiness, on the other hand, have the reverse effect.
We all have the choice to live in joy or in fear. Joy and happiness carry high vibrations, and as a result, we feel lighter in our beings; we feel better about ourselves and about our places in the world, allowing for the continual flow of goodness and positivity. Joyful people lead happier, healthier lives, regardless of their circumstances. They have no need to rely on external sources; instead, they yield to an inner source, to that which is greater than themselves because they know this is where joy resides. Joy brings meaning and purpose to our lives, even during challenging times. Joy sustains us. By cultivating joy, we honor the sacred space within.