I’ve heard some Christian teaching to the effect that “joy” is different than “happiness,” that joy is deep whereas happiness is shallow.
You know — happiness depends on circumstances, but joy can be had regardless of the externals — you’ve heard the drill.
There’s some truth there, but it’s possible to get a bit religious with this. We can end up squelching joy if we insist it’s not even an emotion.
Truth is, it’s pretty difficult to separate joy from happiness.
According to Webster’s, happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment: joy.” It’s also” a pleasurable or satisfying experience.”
Joy is defined as: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight. The expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety. A state of happiness or felicity : bliss.”
Sound pretty similar, don’ t they?
Let’s remember, we are created in God’s image, and he is an emotional being. So I’m thinking the phrase “pursuit of happiness” in our country’s constitution is not such a bad thing.
So how do we pursue happiness and joy? More to the point, how do we find them?
One important way to get there is to understand that, in our culture, we tend to pursue amusement rather than joy — and then wonder why we still feel depressed.
For example, when I feel stressed out, I sometimes decide to “veg out” to a movie for the evening. During the movie, I forget my troubles, but when it’s over, I still feel the same. That’s because being amused is not the same as having your joy restored.
Here are three important distinctions between amusement and joy:
- Amusement is a way to stop thinking. It literally means to stop musing (reflecting). It’s a way to check out of life for a while, to practice avoidance rather than engagement. Joy, on the other hand, stops for a different purpose. Joy stops in order to celebrate, not in order to check out.
- Amusement is a time-killer. It numbs us to the pain of life and allows us to wile away some hours idly. Joy connects us to the moment. Rather than numbing us, it helps us feel fully alive.
- Amusement is a form of escapism. It can be our drug of choice, giving us the illusion we aren’t really having the life we are. But joy is choosing to experience and savor our life exactly the way it is.
Can you see the distinction? Real happiness isn’t about entertaining ourselves. It’s about connecting to the bigger meaning of our lives and finding happiness in God and all he gives us.
Speaking of movies, I recently watched the new version of “The Great Gatsby,” the one starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I was struck by how the crowds of people showing up at Gatsby’s mansion parties amuse themselves to the point of chaos. They drink and dance and laugh and socialize like crazy — yet they are lonely, disconnected, and lost.
Spoiler alert, Gatsby dies — you read the book for English Lit, right? and in the end, none of the frequent guests from all those lavish parties attends his funeral. Not one.
Lots of amusement. No joy.
I want to develop a new habit — to think before mindlessly escaping into amusement.
Better to stop and intentionally celebrate the significant moments of my life. Better to be engaged and present in all the little moments that make up my short life.
Better to savor what I have, because it’s beautiful.
I choose joy.
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