Why is joy more important than happiness?

I don’t think it is a matter of semantics. We have looked at the importance of a happy disposition in life, but we also need to make a distinction between happiness and joy. What is the distinction?

The following 4 minute video of  Nick Vujicic who was born with no arms and legs is incredibly joyful:

Nick is able to show an incredible amount of happiness in spite of his apparent limitations because he has joy.

That joy empowers him, as he says on the video “to be thankful, to dream big and to never give up.”

We talked about the happiness formula in a previous post, and how our external circumstances account for only about 10% of  our overall level of happiness. But I think joy is something much richer and deeper.

As something to explain and describe, joy is incredibly difficult. However, with the help of some literary giants we are going to explore this further. This is a relatively shorter post, but I would encourage you to ponder and reflect on it.

So what is joy? One author has described joy as:

“An unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. Anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”

Another description that leaves one pondering is:

“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.”

I have also heard joy described as an outward expression of gratitude. It is opposite to nostalgia which is an ache for the past. Joy can be seen more as an ache for the future, but it is actually experienced in the here and now. And yet longing for joy, according to many deep thinkers of the past, is actually more satisfying than anything I can get in this life.

C.S. Lewis puts it like this:

“The sweetest thing in my life has been the longing – to reach the mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – my country the place where I ought to have been born.
Do you think it means nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.
The books or music in which we thought this music was located will betray us if we trust in them. It only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
These things are the – the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a country we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

So this hunger for joy is very powerful.  We have such a need for joy that it makes us  incredibly vulnerable as in the hunt for it we can be willing do to do things we shouldn’t and may be likely to later regret.

Romantic relationships are an obvious example of how people look to love for joy. At the beginning of the 20th century Freud described religiosity as pent-up sexuality. However, it is probably more accurate to say that sexuality is pent-up religiosity and the desire for spiritual experience.

The radical conclusion of the Old and New Testament is that the solution of joy problem is found in personally understanding the Gospel (see 4 Personal Implications of the Resurrection).

I am racing ahead of myself here, but it would good to have your thoughts and reflections on joy. Or are there any other questions this post raises for you?

Why Gratitude can be so Powerful

We have been looking at the importance of gratitude as a key to overall happiness in life (see previous post). We have also pointed out how psychologists have estimated that life circumstances only account for about 10% of a person’s overall level of happiness (see the happiness formula at Why I Am Working at Becoming a Happier Person).

HappinessAccording to psychologists, 90% of your overall level of happiness has to do with who you are and what you do. Intuitively we know life will always have its ups and downs and so it is dangerous to depend on your circumstances for happiness. And yet that is our natural default way of thinking. We need to intentionally change that.

Instead your relationships and your life practices are going to be the fuel for how you feel, not what is going on around you.

Therefore, no matter what the circumstances are, we need to be practising gratitude to fill the gap between what is happening around us and how we internally feel. (See also Which Way Are You Looking? Part 1 and Part 2). The reason is that even if things are apparently  going well in our lives we can still find ourselves unhappy.

This also explains why you can find unhappy people in what appear to be the best of circumstances.

The importance of gratitude in becoming a genuinely happier person

For much of my life I have been a ‘glass half-empty’ negative kind of person. I am not proud of that. Given a choice I will tend to find my mind drifting towards the worst case scenario. When they were younger some of my children gave me the nickname “Pudleglum”. 

HappinessPuddleglum is a fictional character from C.S. Lewis’ children’s novel, “The Silver Chair”. He is caricature of pessimissim and a bastion of gloomy fortitude.  (see post What Are The Forms of Major Depressive Disorder? and my own personal struggle with depressive thinking at the post Just As I Am).

However, over the years I have learnt there are certain habits and choices I can make that can profoundly influence my state of mind on a moment-by-moment basis. One of the most foundational is the cultivation of an attitude of gratitude.  I share my experience with you here for you to see if there is anything that resonates with you and you feel you can apply in your own life.

In November 2008 I went to hear a lecture by the psychologist Tal Ben-Sahar at an elite private school called Wellington College. In many ways that evening was a life-defining moment for me. At that evening I was challenged by Tal Ben-Sahar keeping a daily journal every night for several years. In that journal he recorded at least 3 things that he was grateful for. I was so inspired that evening I made a decision, with the help of God’s grace, to do that as well.

Why I am working on becoming a happier person

We are use to the idea of training our physical bodies to become physically fit. There are distinct things we can do to become a stronger and healthier person- eating the right foods, exercising regularly and consistently are the obvious things that come to mind. By applying the Law of Process I can make huge changes to my physical health. That is certainly well established and uncontroversial. But can I actually train myself to be an overall happier person? Shawn Achor, a teacher of positive psychology at Harvard would give an emphatic yes. If you have not yet seen this entertaining 12 minute video (introduced in the last post) I would encourage you to do so.

In all my training to become a psychiatrist I do not recall a single lecture or class on dealing with the positive in life rather than the negative. To illustrate this, according to Martin Seligman between 1967 to 2000 there were the following number of psychological abstracts on the following subjects:

What do you think makes you happy?

The 12 minute video below is a talk given by Sean Achor, who is an American educator, author and speaker. It is both entertaining and funny while at the same time challenges our assumptions as to what are the factors that can truly make us happy.

One of Achor’s main points is the importance of mindset to increasing our potential for happiness, productivity, creativity and energy. This flies in the face of  much of formal education which seeks to focus on what is called “the cult of the average”. 

What is the most complex object in the universe?

You can make a pretty strong case for saying that the human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. 

Human brain imageIt contains 100 billion nerve cells (called neurones). Each of these neurones contains a vast electrochemical complex and powerful micro-data-processing system. As complex as each cell is it would fit on the head of a pin!

In the last 150 days of intra-uterine life, the brain is apparently developing neurones at the rate of 580,000 a minute! Each neurone connects to another neurone through anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 synapses.

New brain connections are created every time you form a memory.

You can even make a case for saying that the number of potential  inter-neuronal connections in one human brain is significantly  more than the number of atoms in the known universe (see Wonder Filled Bold Humility part 2).

More than 650 people attempted to set a new Guinness world record on 22 February 2014 when they created the largest image of a brain made out of people in Liverpool’s University Square.

The participants donned ponchos of different colours to represent parts of the brain (red for the frontal lobe, blue for the parietal lobe, orange for the occipital lobe, green for the temporal lobe, yellow for the cerebellum, purple for the brainstem and spinal cord). The record attempt was led by Tom Solomon, head of Liverpool University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, in aid of World Encephalitis Day.

Here are some interesting facts about your brain:

9 reasons why you could be feeling down. Particularly #4

We all have times when we feel down or deflated.

depressed-older-ladyFor a clinical diagnosis of depression, doctors consider nine specific symptoms. Major depression is diagnosed from persistent low mood and loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities along with at least four of the other symptoms for at least two weeks. (See Is The Rate of Depression Actually Increasing or Not?)

But whether depression is classified as major, moderate or minor, as far as the individual is concerned its all major. Rather like all minor surgery if it is happening to you personally then it is major surgery! (See the 4 minute video I Had A Black Dog).

A helpful way to look at the forms and varieties of  low mood is as a spectrum of causes that may or may not be inter-related to each other.

  1. It can be  a symptom of something else- for example a side effect of a serious illness or a minor illness like the flu.
  2. It can be a reaction to life events like a relationship breakdown, a sudden bereavement or losing a job.
  3. It can also be an illness in its own right when there is a biochemical imbalance in the brain. This is the one that doctors have tended to focus the most on and includes conditions like bipolar affective disorder or manic depression.

In terms of causes, it is important to appreciate that we are holistic beings with a body, mind and spirit aspects that inter-relate with each other.

Could your lifestyle be getting you down? Part 2

It was the early 1990s. I was just starting as a trainee psychiatrist. She was one of the first patients with depression who I was responsible for. At the time I was a junior doctor on a six month rotation getting experience in a busy outpatient clinic. I had about 20 minutes to evaluate how she was doing, review her diagnosis and decide on treatment options. But this particular lady  just did not seem to be getting better in spite of all the different medications and therapies that were being tried.

depressed-older-ladyI remember going through her history and treatments feeling something was not quite right. I must have been about the fourth or fifth doctor she had seen in the previous two years. I finally had to say to her, ‘Is there something that we are not aware of or are missing?’

Then she dropped the bombshell.


Could your lifestyle be what is getting you down?

Stephen Ilardi is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Kansas. The 20 minute video below presents an interesting perspective on depression. The main emphasis is on how our modern sedentary lifestyle is incompatible with good mental health.

For what might appear to be a negative subject it is actually very enlightening and even uplifting!

Professor Illardi’s video presents a strong case for re-evaluating how we manage our lives. In particular I will highlight the following observations: