Happiness Depends on “Happenings”. Here’s Why Joy is Different.

By Robert A. Rohm, PhD

This week I want to try to make a finer distinction between being happy and being full of joy. Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it\’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning!” Words do make a difference in the way we perceive things.

Although our emotional response to happiness and joy are very similar, they are actually two different things and, I believe, are miles apart. Although I believe it is good to be happy, I believe that our culture has made too much of it. Let me explain.

“Are you happily married?” is a question that most of us have either heard or been asked. Because “happiness” often depends on “happenings”, most people would answer that question based on how they feel at the moment it is asked. In other words, if things are going well at the moment, they would probably respond that they are happily married. But, if things are not going so well at that point in time, they probably would answer that they are not happily married. Again, happiness is closely tied to happenings. If your “happenings” are not very good at the present moment, then you are probably not very happy.

If, however, you were asked if you are joyfully married, the question would take on a whole new and different meaning. The focus of that question seems to have more to do with the condition of your heart and your overall total relationship. It would focus on your own ability to do whatever you could do to make your own situation better.

But, I want to change the illustration from marriage to something else. (The reason I started with marriage is because there is so much emphasis in our culture on being “happily married”.) To make this Tip more practical, let me ask you about your employment situation. Are you happily employed or are you joyfully employed?

All of us have challenges at work. We often face difficult obstacles and situations. We deal with difficult people all the time and we struggle every day to make things work as well as we think they should. If I am honest, I would have to say I am not happy in my employment. Although, I own a business and have wonderful people that I work with daily, sometimes it is still very time consuming, difficult, stressful and frustrating.

However, I can honestly say from my heart that I am joyfully employed. I love what I do, I love the people I work with, and I love the growth that I have seen us make as a company and as individuals. The joy in my work brings me great satisfaction and helps many people. Yes, I am joyfully employed.

Let’s try one more example. I am a joyful parent. I absolutely love and adore my four grown daughters. They mean the world to me. Each one is a precious gift but, I would not say that I am always a happy parent. Sometimes it is frustrating to work with my grown children because I am so emotionally attached to them. It can be challenging to watch the events of their lives unfold because they are not always happy situations. However, it is always joyful for me to be their dad. I hope by now you get the picture.

As I said at the beginning, this Tip is about a finer distinction. In the last few weeks I have begun to ask myself, “Am I happy in this situation or am I joyful?” and it has made a great deal of difference in my heart to separate those two issues. Happiness depends on my happenings, but joyfulness always depends on doing the right things, having a good attitude, seeing the bigger picture and experiencing personal growth.

Practice this for a few days and see if it makes a difference in your outlook on life. I know it has in my life and I believe it will in yours as well!