Finding the essence of joy

Some time ago, a friend told me that joy was different from happiness. She made a convincing argument that happiness is usually something, short, fast and fleeting. Yet, still we pursue it. And pursue it. And then pursue it some more. But, I think that, much like addictive substances or experiences our wish for a state of happiness continues to tug at our sleeves and make us hungry to seek out yet another outlet for “happiness” or a “happy” experience.

I’m not sure I have been a great recipient of happiness. Perhaps I was too suspicious of its fleeting nature. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. No matter.

My friend told me that, in her view  joy was more like an ongoing feeling of contentment or well-being. I liked the sound of that. Contentment, I thought, would be easier to fall back on to if the world treated me unkindly on Tuesday or overwhelmed me next Saturday. Contentment might provide me with a strong foundation from which to appreciate the little things that give each life texture and meaning.

This conversation on the subject of joy occurred probably two years ago. Since then, I feel as if I have been trying to capture joy. I’ve certainly considered what it is quite frequently. I’m still not sure I know. So, with great fear and trepidation, I decided to begin a blog to capture some of my thoughts on what actions, images, stories or other events hold the possibility or image of joy in them. Today that exercise — which I think of as a type  of spiritual exercise — begins.

I’ll begin by saying that I can take no credit for the next few ideas. I have heard these thoughts from other friends whose consideration on the subject of joy makes sense to me and has set me on this path of contemplation.

“Joy is a particular (some might say peculiar) quality, different from and deeper than mere happiness. Joy is a sustained sense of well being and internal peace…”

The word joy comes from the Greek (Yes, gentle reader, I like to muck around the in the meaning of words!) and literally means “for the heart, in its deepest place of passion and feelings to be very well.” Another friend, a very wise monk, has spoken on the subject at greater length.  Here is a little of what he perceives this most under-discussed characteristic to embody:

“To have joy is to rejoice. To rejoice is to have a deep sense of delight…so how can this spiritual gift be tapped and unwrapped?

“Joy takes time. Joy is not fast food. It comes as a by-product of living a savored life, of having time and taking time to ‘smell the flowers.’ Joy needs time. Take time, take at least some time, to do one thing at a time…Take time, at least some time each day, if you are walking, to just walk. Take time, at least some time, if you are looking, to just look; if you are listening, to just listen. If you are sipping iced tea or watering plants or petting the dog, take time just to do that. Do one thing at a time, and do that as often as you can. Take the time to let the fragrances and aromas of life penetrate to the deepest part of your being, where they can be savored.”

I like the idea of savoring moments of life. Things go so fast now. With all our inter-connectedness, and our crazy-making attempts to cram more and more into 24 hours, when do we savor our lives and not just a glass of wine? But, I think I would prefer a sense of life being very well — even at the worst of times — than just to feel the void of busyness each and every day. Expecting that a frenetic pace will somehow keep the demons or the fears away is not realistic. Difficult things pop up in our packed schedules and then we have to schedule time to go and see a friend in the hospital who has cancer and is frightened and lonely! Isn’t there something out of sync with this type of decision-making?

So, I will think about my life this week in terms of savoring all that comes — both bad and good — as the texture of a joy-based and joy-filled life.

In all things, I wish you peace.


6 comments on “Finding the essence of joy

  1. Lori Gainer says:

    Thanks for sharing your first entry. I absolutely agree that there is a difference between joy and happiness. I affirm that happiness is part of the joy of our lives. Joy is something that you have, it is part of your being and essence; whereas happiness can be fleeting and situational. There are many experiences that add to the joy in my life; indicating that the joy is already there and has residency within all of who I am. I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you. Blessings

  2. Yes. I like contentment. The cat, content with the here and now basking in the warm sunshine, does not think about yesterday or tomorrow. The cat does not dwell on right or wrong, or the issues of the day. The cat simply feels the goodness of the warmth. And the cat experiences contentment.
    Here is an interesting article on the “Game of Happiness.” It references several different ideas and concepts. –

  3. Ron Welch says:

    Congratulations on putting yourself out there with your blog. You’ll have to tell me how to go about getting one of these things.

    Joy, as you describe it, sounds a lot like what buddhists (Thich Nhat Hanh in particular) call “Mindfulness.” It is the antithesis of “Multitasking”. It surely is something to be sought; just to savor life and be in the moment.

    Everything about our lives in this frenetic world seems to work against Mindfulness. Our challenge is taking the time to practice it everyday. I too often choose distraction over mindfulness. I think most of us do. Perhaps that is why, in moments that fall between one action and another, we nervously scroll though our various hand-held devices.

    When Marion and I first married we lived in Pflugerville. The neighborhood, of course, was being built atop former farms. There were still open fields and big sky and it was still pretty quiet. I developed the habit, after the supper dishes were put away, of going out to the patio, sitting in chair, propping up my feet (maybe with a glass of wine) and exhaling. I sat and watched the day die. I tired to actually watch the sun go down. When it reaches a certain point above the horizon you can actually watch is slowly drop behind the edge to the world. The first time I saw it I was awestruck.

    Back then the area was not heavily developed and we could actually see the horizon. A couple of years later there were buildings in the way so I switched my attention to the busy little Purple Martins in the sky; nature’s little fighter planes. I would stay until darkness overcame my ability to see them. I was still working then and this was my respite. I am retired now and it has been a long time since I sat out and watched the day die. Your first blog entry tells me that I need to pick up that old habit. Thanks.

    • michele says:

      Ron, funny you should mention…I was considering this very thing — okay, well, sunrises — as I started this writing. And, by the way, you are a fine, fine storyteller in your own right! Thank you for reading my first entry.

  4. Laurie says:

    Nice! Thank you for these thoughts!

  5. Michelle,

    I love, love, love it!!! When I read the title, “Sweet in the Morning,” I knew I would love it. I especially love phrases like, “Joy takes time. Joy is not fast food. It comes as a by-product of living a savored life.”

    This is just beautiful! You are a very talented writer, young lady. Love your choice of colors and your parting sentiment. You did a great job Michelle! I look forward to reading more.


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