Self-Improvement

Joy vs Happiness: What’s the Difference?

Many of us spend our days seeking happiness, but is that really the right thing to be chasing? What is the difference between joy and happiness, and what does this mean in our daily lives?

My inquiry about joy vs happiness led me to a fantastic book, The Book of Joy. In it, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are interviewed about joy vs happiness, as well as how to find joy.

These two incredible men experienced great trials in their life, yet they are pillars of hope for their communities and the world. I’ll summarize what I learned from them here.

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Joy vs Happiness

Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably, but there is actually a big difference between them.

Happiness is described as dependent on external circumstances. All too often the feelings are “like a butterfly that lands on us and then flutters away,” according to the Dalai Lama.

Eating a piece of chocolate or getting all the green lights on the way home from work may make us feel happy for a time, but this satisfaction is not lasting. Happiness is often associated with feelings of the senses; it is an emotional response.

Joy, on the other hand, comes from within. It is a much more enduring feeling that persists no matter the circumstance.

"Joy subsumes happiness. Joy is the far greater thing." Desmond Tutu

Frustration and challenges do not have to rob one of joy. Great humanitarians like the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela have shown that one can maintain joy despite great struggles in life.

While most people are looking for the source of happiness in the things that happen to them, they should instead be looking inward. Outward attainment does not bring real inner joyfulness.

"The ultimate source of happiness is within us." Dalai Lama

Some may feel that joy is tied to religion and one’s faith in God. However, these two spiritual leaders showed that it is universal. Joy is our birthright and even more fundamental than happiness, according to the book.

Joy is a deep feeling of contentment. It is cultivated over a lifetime and can even be born from suffering. Happiness is more about getting what you want in the moment—it is fleeting.

How to Find Joy

In the question of joy vs happiness, joy clearly comes out on top. Given these differences, if you’re like me, it leaves you wondering, “well how do I find joy?” It’s got to be the secret to a good life, right?

Plus, how can some people who have faced so much adversity seem to be so joyful?

There is no “get joy quick” scheme. It will require regular practice and continued effort. In The Book of Joy, they outline eight pillars of joy:

  1. Perspective
  2. Humility
  3. Humor
  4. Acceptance
  5. Forgiveness
  6. Gratitude
  7. Compassion
  8. Generosity

If you’ll notice a common theme, it’s putting others first. You must recognize the world larger than yourself.

The Dalai Lama stresses the common humanity among all of us as a central theme. Being a kind and compassionate human goes a long way toward filling yourself with joy.

Practices like meditation or prayer may be helpful for looking inside yourself and growing feelings such as empathy and acceptance. Really it’s about finding what works best for you to be able to think about living your highest values and strengthening your connections with others.

There are also barriers to joy, including fear, loneliness, anxiety, stress, grief, and envy. Practicing meditation or prayer is also a way to combat these obstacles on your own, among other techniques.

Learn more about mindfulness and science-backed tools for stress relief

The book has more details in each of the areas above that I’m not able to go in-depth in this article. (The secret to life in a single blog post? I wish.) I came away inspired and with a new sense of direction on where to find lasting joy.

Suffice it to say, each day you have a new chance to question whether you are living up to your ideals and change course if needed. By serving others and striving to uphold the values you hold dear, you will be on course to lasting inner joy.

"Every day is a new opportunity to begin again. Every day is your birthday." Dalai Lama

Remember that joy will not come from getting a raise or buying your dream home. You must look inside yourself. It lives within you, ready to grow.

Learning the joy vs happiness distinction is the first step in understanding what you truly seek and whether you are going about it the right way. Has this been eye opening for you?

Wishing you much joy.

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