Long before I read Leo J. Muir’s book, “Flashes from the Eternal Semaphore,” I knew I wanted to find joy. But, I was stuck; what is joy and how do I identify joy were my first two obstacles. Yet, from many sources comes the following, in many different forms:
“Man is that he might find joy.”
What is Joy?
An appeal to the dictionary confuses joy and happiness, forming part of the problem where understanding joy is concerned. The closest definition for joy coming from the dictionary is to define joy as an ecstatic feeling, pleasure, or deep satisfaction. But, if a person goes around chasing a euphoric feeling, they will be disappointed in pursuing joy. If we consider joy as not an emotion but the result of an unexpected event that creates feelings of peace and contentment, then joy is more fully understood, but the quest for joy becomes more challenging to pursue. How does one pursue an unexpected gift?
Christians, and some Jews, share a description of joy as a “good feeling in the soul, produced by a visit from the Holy Ghost (Spirit); thus, joy is felt as a consequence of a visit from another being. However, unless you pursue education into those religions, you still might not fully grasp what joy is and why we seek joy so ardently. One of the most straightforward descriptions for joy comes from the writings of Pope, an English author from the 16th century who wrote:
“Reason’s whole pleasure, all the joys of sense, lie in the three words –health, peace, and competence.”
Hence the pursuit of joy is gaining health, peace, and competence. So we can conclude that joy is found in possessing health, peace, and competence, as a consequence or good feeling stemming from achieving these three items. Now, I know someone will get bent out of shape here; what if I have poor health, how can I pursue joy? The answer lies in understanding peace and competence as co-equal parts of health.
Recently on YouTube, I watched an amputee discuss their amputation, health, peace, and display their competence. One could argue that losing a foot is poor health, yet this person glows with good health for having joined health to peace and competence. By the same token, I know several people who possess poor health, are depressed from not finding peace, and are not competent. While working with mental health patients, I met a person in a wheelchair who cannot walk, can barely speak, and this person chooses to live on the street in misery. This person has plenty of money for an apartment but chooses to live on the street eating from garbage cans in abject misery. Thus, we can see the need for combining health, peace, and competence to obtain joy. One might even define joy as a consequence of choices that build a life. However, and this is critical, the feelings of joy are internal!
Imperative to understanding joy as a consequence is the need to grasp that joy is an internal feeling of ecstasy, delight, and wonder while dependent upon health, peace, and competence. We cannot understate this importance nor overstate the criticality of joy to the combination of health, peace, and competence. I have met very depressed people who possess competence but cannot find joy. I have met people with great health and who are miserable. Possessing one or two of these components does not disqualify you from obtaining joy or pursuing joy, but lacking all three will not produce joy in any quantity or with any staying power. Joy is not an event in life but a collection of events from life, where “everything just clicked.”
Finally, it must be expressly noted joy is not an emotion; thus, joy cannot be chosen from a list of emotions to fit circumstances. Since joy is not an emotion, this is where happy and joy are most often confused. If an external event occurs, and health, peace, and competence are not present, happiness, not joy, is being felt or experienced. If health, peace, and competence are present, and the feeling of joy swells inside, independent of all other factors, then joy is being experienced.
Case in point, in the US Navy, I served in a toxic working environment as a highly competent sailor. I possessed health and, through inner strength, enjoyed peace inside myself. Frequently, I would experience joy, even though external elements and environments appeared expressly designed to “make me miserable.” By choosing to disallow an external event to choose my emotions, peace was mine, and joy was a consequence.
Another English author from the 16th century was Edward Young, who concluded the following:
“On the soft bed of luxury, most kingdoms have expired.”
What is happiness?
The definition of happiness is as convoluted as the definition of joy. Consider the following: “Any state of being, having considerable permanence, in which pleasure predominates over pain.” Yeah, that’s going to help a person understand! Sarcasm aside, the definitions of happiness also include some interesting aspects for consideration: fortuitous aptness or fitness, grace, beauty, and felicitousness. Happiness is also the quality or state of being happy, as if that actually helps.
Happy, the root word of happiness, is defined as cheerful, willing, possessing good luck or fortunate, a marked pleasure satisfaction, or showing the same. What the dictionary skips, and the elements needed for understanding happy and happiness, is that being happy relies upon external factors and is a choice. We choose to emote happy or happiness based upon external forces, societies, people, events, and environments.
Steven Aitchison is quoted as saying, “Happiness begins with the decision to no longer feel sad.” Is it clear that happiness, like all emotions, is a choice? The importance of choosing our emotions cannot be understated, and many of life’s biggest problems would disappear if we chose better emotional responses to external stimuli. Aristotle provides the final word on happiness:
“True happiness comes from gaining insight and growing into your best possible self. Otherwise, all you’re having is immediate gratification pleasure, which is fleeting and doesn’t grow you as a person.”
What is the difference between Joy and Happiness?
Of a truth for certain, confusing Joy and Happiness leads to despair, misery, and failure. Please keep the following clearly in mind; happiness is external. Happiness is based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope. Believe it or not, the following observation is not religious thinking, faith builds hope, hope builds charity, and charity is nothing but an outward action of an inner commitment (faith). Happiness is faith and hope expressed for everyone to see. Put the words in any order and use a thesaurus. The result never varies; happiness is a consequence (resulting from) of faith and hope combined into action, and others might call that action charity.
If further questions arise about distinguishing between joy and happiness, please review the above definitions where I have attempted to clarify the delineation. One essential factor in pursuing peace is time to reflect, which promotes peace and distills into competence. Competence breeds from education (formal and informal) applied over time and understood through reflection. Peace is stability, mental calm and derives from reflection and additional education (formal and informal). Health can be physical, mental, and spiritual, but of these three, mental and spiritual are more important than physical health. Again, when combined, independent of all external forces and environments, joy is the consequence, not happiness!
Please allow me to point out something truly obvious when a person wishes you joy, they generally also include happiness as an addition to their blessing. For example, the Whitney Houston song whose lyrics claim:
“I wish to you joy and happiness. But above all this, I wish you love.”
Thus confirming that joy and happiness are two distinct and separate entities. The US Constitution allows and encourages a person to pursue “Life, liberty, and happiness” as inalienable rights.” Joy is not included! Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:
“The US Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”
The Quest for Joy
The quest for joy begins with education (formal and informal) as a building block for competence and to begin the process of finding peace. While influenced by external factors (drugs, alcohol, disease, viruses, bacteria, etc.), health requires mental and spiritual inputs and is not content without peace. Choosing to accept physical limitations is part of building mental and spiritual peace, and the human body cannot long survive without mental and spiritual health and peace, but the body can long endure physical health problems if mental and spiritual health remains.
Another truth becomes evident when questing for joy, “Joy dwells in the ordinary.” Consider this for a moment; a person gives another person a flower. Ordinary, simplistic, and yet this giving provides joy to the giver and receiver. How swift and fleeting is the happiness of Christmas, where the gifts are generally more extravagant, costly, and luxurious, but a simple flower can spark a world of memories.
My granddaughter, a toddler at the time, and I took a walk. She found a wildflower in the midst of thousands of other flowers on this walk which was important to her. Upon our walk concluding, we pressed that flower into a book. The time spent with her remains a cherished memory for me, and when I see wildflowers, the memories of this walk and flower pressing come back readily. Truly, joy is found in the ordinary!
Elbert Hubbard reminds us that:
“Ozone and friendship will be our stimulants – let the drugs, tobacco, and strong drink go forever. Natural joy brings no headaches and no heartaches.”
Why; because natural joy combines health, peace, and competence into a powerful force. No further stimulation is needed or wanted. Bulwer Lytton provides the best flashing sign for contemplation:
“We lose the peace of years when we hunt after the rapture of the moments.”
What will you sacrifice in the quest for joy, the peace of years, or the rapture of moments? One of the most miserable people I have ever met chased rapture in the moments and could not understand why chasing momentous euphoria did not lead to anything other than the chase for more rapturous moments. Like any drug, the mind and body build a resistance to the drug over time, and more and more of the drug is required to obtain a similar experience. Be the drug sugar, chocolate, heroin, cocaine, tobacco, alcohol, etc., the pattern is the same, and the consequences are the same. Depression, anxiety, addiction, destruction, call the consequences what you will, chasing the rapture of moments is death.
We conclude with the following from Robert Louis Stevenson, may his words ring out on our journey for joy as a beacon and a sounding board to base decisions upon:
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauties, nor failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he has; whose life is an inspiration; whose memory, a benediction.”
May your quest for joy be fruitful!
© Copyright 2022 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images. Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.