The Difference Between Joy and Happiness - A Life-Giving Truth

Happiness and joy

You are sitting on a bench, not far from a playground. A small group of children are playing, laughing. Their shrieks fill the air. Once child slips, falls, and bumps her knee. Crying, she runs to a woman sitting nearby, alone. It's not long and the woman's loving embrace has done it's work and the child is running back towards the slide. A joyful shriek fills the air and all is forgotten. The woman smiles.

You glance back towards the women and the little spark of joy her child ignited in the woman's heart at that moment is contrasted by subtle contours of loneliness on her face. 

Your heart reaches out to her. You sense connection to her pain and joy without even exchanging words.

Happiness and joy are powerful beasts, they are regularly confused twins that live by very different rules. They are innately connected and feed off each other. Happiness is a home you build. It demands habitual, intentional action and sacrifice. Joy cannot be planned or controlled and lives and dies in the moments.

In an 80-year old Harvard study, scientists studied the health of a group of 268 Harvard sophomores, beginning in 1938. It resulted in incredible insights into happiness. While the participants had remarkably different life trajectories, careers, incomes, successes and failures, there was one strong commonality. The remarkable conclusion, although not surprising, was that close relationships, more than money or fame, were what kept people happy throughout their lives.

Happiness is grounded in relationship. It is an anchor.

Human connectedness is the building blocks for a happy life. Connection remains strong when we look to the needs of those we are connected with. We sacrifice our own needs, and are rewarded with the happiness that thrives in connection.

Joy flits around like a butterfly.

It's the feeling, an emotion. It thrives in happiness and letting go, but is not bound by circumstances. It is a significant companion through painful seasons, as it provides moments of light in difficult times.

In 2018, our third son was born with a series of unexpected complications. He was diagnosed with Down syndrome and we spent the first month of his life displaced hundreds of kilometres from our home, by his side as he received life-giving treatment in hospital.

We were there together, as a family. We were supported by the connectedness of our friends, extended family, of God. It was difficult, painful, confusing, but strangely, we felt safe, at peace, even happy.

One day, I remember walking through parklands close to the hospital in the evening and I was overcome with the beauty of my surroundings. Fairy lights in the distance behind a path covered in artistic metallic framing and green vines. I was hesitant to allow this moment, but decided to give it freedom. A powerful feeling rose up in me, it was magical. It was joy.

You cannot turn happiness or joy on and off like a switch, but you can take simple steps to allow them to live.

Give life to human connection. Forgive, sacrifice, love.

Let go and give joy permission to exist where it chooses.