When I ask people why they come to coach with me, one of the common responses is, “I want to be happier.” I have thought a lot about happiness over the years, and I am seeing that this term is actually pretty vague and needs honing in order to be something worth shooting for.
Merriam Webster may disagree, but I would like to propose that we make a distinction between happiness and joy. Here is how I would define each:
Happiness: a moment-to-moment emotion.
One minute you can be happy because you got a great discount on a new shirt you bought. The next minute you can be sad because you saw an elderly person in the store who reminds you of your grandmother who is ailing. Happiness, like any feeling, can come and go like clouds rolling across a sky.
Joy: an overall contentment and delight with your life.
Joy comes from looking at the tapestry of your life that you have wove, and being pleased with where you have been and where you are going. Joy comes from knowing that you are living your life according to your highest values, and are living up to your own personal mission, whatever it may be.
It is possible that there are better words to describe these two phenomena, but for the sake of understanding the dichotomy, let’s use them for now.
You can see how happiness and joy are sometimes aligned, and sometimes not. For example, when I have a great coaching session with a client, I feel happy. I also feel joyous, because helping guide people through challenges is part of my life’s work. In this case, the two are aligned. However, when I eat a box of my favorite sandwich cookies, I may feel very happy with the momentary thrill of delighted taste buds, but I am not joyous. I am not joyous because eating those cookies does not align with my vision for my body or my heart. In this case, happiness and joy don’t align. In fact, putting down that box of cookies can make me feel downright pouty.
Sometimes, joy can even be boring. There is a reason why TV shows don’t profile joyous people who have figured out how to have fulfilling relationships, jobs, and families. It is far more interesting to watch people who cycle between happiness and sadness, love and anger, pride and embarrassment, confidence and fear. Living in joy still has moments of elation and upset, but being rooted in the overall big picture of a life well lived makes those momentary feelings less all-encompassing. And hence, less dramatic.
My job, then, is to make sure that the people in my life find joy. There will be moments of happiness along the way, moments of fear, moments of sadness. But the one thing that remains constant along the path is the feeling of joy for being along the path.
Are you joyous in your life? Where are you chasing happiness instead of joy?
Want to learn how to find joy by connecting to your life’s mission? Sign up for one of our Design Your Life Weekends this fall in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Boston, and Toronto.