Happiness vs. Joy

According to renowned spiritual teacher and philosopher of living a purposeful life Eckhart Tolle, “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”

So the opposite must be true as well – the primary cause of happiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it.
Happiness is a very superficial emotion that comes and goes because it is based on our temporary, fleeting thoughts about a particular situation or person.

How we perceive a situation is rooted in whether we think of it as a good thing or a bad thing. The determination that we make of something as a good or bad thing is what then causes us to feel happiness or to not feel happiness.

For example, if I get a promotion, I might be very happy at that exact moment and I text my spouse to tell her about my promotion. If she were to respond with, “that’s great honey!” And then the very next text states, “FYI, I just got the estimate from the mechanic. It’s going to be $5,000 to fix the car.” All of a sudden – my happy feelings can dissipate. Just that quickly, my feeling of elation has been proven to be temporary and it is gone because I am now bogged down again.

Dr. Brene Brown, a leading researcher in vulnerability, shame, courage, and empathy tells us in her work that, “happiness is tied to circumstance, and joy is tied to spirit and gratitude.”

Joy, for me, feels more like a state of being. Joy goes deeper than happiness. It is all-encompassing and more enriching and satiating than happiness. It provides a consistent underlying feeling about life in general or connectedness. A connectedness to others, nature, spirituality. It is also a full acceptance of where I am in the moment and what I am doing through being in the present moment. Ultimately, joy is about having a connection to something bigger – something deeper – something spiritual.

I am most aware of this state of being I call joy when I feel intensely connected or present. For example, I feel it easily when I am “in the flow” with my work and I am in a blissful, focused state, and very much enjoy what I am doing, whether it is coaching clients or giving a presentation. I feel it when I am climbing a challenging mountain on my road bike and I am “in the zone.” When this happens, I am completely present as I feel my muscles working hard; my breathing steady; I see the amazing views, and I feel the air on my skin. I feel it when I am walking in nature and I can immerse myself in the sounds of the birds, the streams, and the leaves rustling in the wind. All of these examples of joy bring a deeper sense of connectedness, much more than plain “happiness” does.

Another way to think about it is that joy is the stillness at the depth of the ocean. Happiness is a wave upon the ocean. The calmness of the joy is always there in the ocean, while the waves are fleeting.

The underlying sense of joy can also exist if you are dealing with something challenging – grief, loss, heartache, or rejection – and feel innate sadness. You can hold space for both the current ache and the eternal joy. That is duality and it is a major key to mastering wellness throughout the human experience. Whereas with happiness, I have not found it possible to be truly sad and happy at the same time.

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