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The Difference between Happiness & Joy and Why We Have it all Wrong

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I used to think that happiness was the key to being content. If I could just figure out how to be happy, I’d have it ALL figured out. I dreamt of the things that brought me happiness; the clothes, the shoes, the vacations, the relationship, the house, the job, the paycheck, the degrees, the certifications, the family. And I was working hard at all of it. In fact, I’d say I’ve spent the majority of my life chasing after those things truly believing that once I arrived and attained, this would equal happiness. Sound familiar?

Sure. I’m definitely not the only one who grew up believing in the American dream. Finish school they said. Go get the job they said. Get married they said. Have kids they said. So I did what the good girl does and followed the directions. I never thought in a million years that those directions would be wrong. I never imagined that all that work would still amount to discontentment. But, what I found is that no matter how much outer happiness you attain, it will never amount to joy and here’s why:

Happiness is situation dependent. Happiness occurs when a positive life event happens, when we achieve some huge milestone, when we attain something we’ve worked hard for, when we see something we’ve created take off. Happiness depends on the result of a pay off of some kind and the thing is that the pay off always wears off. As soon as we attain that happy feeling, our mind subconsciously begins to look for more things that can make us happy. Our focus naturally shifts off of what is in front of us and starts looking ahead. Happiness, therefore, is something that has to be replenished with new attainments, achievements, and positive life events.

This is all well and good if you like a challenge, but chasing (and even creating) happiness takes a good deal of effort. Joy, on the other hand, creates a lot more ease. Here’s the difference:

While happiness is a fleeting emotional state and something that we choose every single moment, joy is a more grounded life perspective that naturally inclines us to look for the positive. When we cultivate joy, we dramatically increase our likelihood of experiencing happiness because we are more often than not in an open, curious, accepting, grateful state of mind.

Joy runs deeper than the superficial state of happiness. Joy allows us to see the silver lining even in moments of intense sadness, grief, and disappointment. Joy affords us perhaps the most mighty of characteristics and that is hope. If you can cultivate hope on a daily basis, then you are living from a place of joy.

So how does one go about creating joy? Joy comes from authenticity and congruency. Congruency occurs when our outsides match our insides. Or, in other words, when our outside behavior matches our internal values, morals, beliefs, hopes, and priorities. This feels good because we are acting in accordance to our real self. Joy can be deepened in a few ways:

Spirituality and deepening your sense of self: You sense of self is who you are as a person. It includes your beliefs, values, morals, dreams, fears, and priorities. Your sense of spirituality includes the relationship you have with yourself, the way in which you honor yourself, the relationship you have with your own belief system. Spirituality helps us deepen our sense of self and vice versa. Deepen these two things and joy will grow.

Joy can be maximized when we find our purpose in life. The ultimate goal of any advanced species is to have a greater understanding of why they’re here and what they should be doing with their lives. Finding your purpose allows your unique gifts, talents, passions, values, and dreams to truly shine. Your purpose is a natural extension of who you are as a person and how you serve the world. It creates a sense of selflessness and deeper understanding of self as well as increased peace to feel that you are indeed on the right path.

Joy cannot be cultivated without gratitude. Gratitude is a fundamental requirement for the more surface level experience of happiness. Gratitude also plays a role in deepening one’s spirituality and it’s one of the few practices that can actually sustain one’s feeling of happiness. Creating a gratitude practice will help you work on both happiness and joy, but even better, the more you practice, the more this becomes your natural state of being.

Joy grows immensely when we tap into our creativity and imagination. Our creativity and imagination are intimately linked to our ability to be vulnerable. Because creativity and imagination require us leaving what currently exists to create something that does not yet exist, we must think outside of what we know and venture into unknown territories and ideas. Vulnerability is deeply connected to courage and our ability to establish genuine connection with others, both of which also increase joy.

So, instead of seeking happiness, what about seeking joy? How would your life change if you were to seek your own spirituality, sense of self, your life purpose, gratitude, and creativity? Lastly, how do you define the differences between happiness and joy? Is it different for you?

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