Joy not happiness

We focus a lot of energy on being happy, or trying to be happy, but maybe this is the wrong way to look at it. If we want to have a good life, we should instead focus our energies on joy.

What’s the difference? To me, the concept of happiness implies a state of being, we either are or we’re not happy. Happiness is an elusive feeling that vanishes upon reflection. We are most happy in moments when we don’t dwell too deeply. The concept of happiness itself is passive. It comes from the Middle English word for “luck” and still carries this connotation of being a state or feeling that is visited upon you rather than a conscious state of mind. To seek happiness is to seek something out of your control and maybe beyond your reach.

Joy is a better word. It comes from the Latin for “to rejoice”. It carries that original meaning of appreciation and recognition of the good that is around you. Joy is a mental state of pleasure in what is. Happiness does not seem to have this same active meaning. When we seek happiness, we seek some positive internal change from outside ourselves, rather than change ourselves to adapt to the external.

As I was writing this I was reminded of a hymn they used to sing when I was a boy, it’s based on Isaiah 55:12. I found a nice blog entry on a similar subject.

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