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?