The World English Dictionary defines joy as “a deep feeling of happiness or contentment.” I use that definition over the American standard definition of joy as a synonym for happiness. Happiness, though, comes from a surprise or something in life that delights being present: it is short term. Both life experiences and my faith have lead me to the more solid definition grounded in the words, “a deep feeling.”
Unfortunately, as a counselor, I see too many people coming into my office with fast food emotions: they are fleeting, here now and different in a moment. Emotions are not valued and very often people do not invest in them the effort it takes to make them meaningful. Emotions exert great influence on our daily lives. Days can be ruined (or made) by those fleeting experiences to which no one else gave the least thought.
For the last 20 years, since I came to understand that joy, real joy, cannot exist as a fleeting experience, I have sought to live my life in a search for joy. It has been both a personal and a spiritual journey to find out what it means for me. Living in joy does not mean I am happy all the time; very often I am cranky about something. Smiling does not come naturally to me; it never has. Frowning, or a non-happy expression on my face, is normal it does not mean I am unhappy or upset about something. It means I am being me. No matter my expression, my driving core emotion is joy.
Living a life in joy means making decisions about career, relationships, faith, and budget that impact daily quality of life. My career (and the specific job I have now) reflects my personal values of social justice and social responsibility: as an educator, I have impact. I confine my relationships (friendships) to people who add value to my life – even if we disagree on key issues. My faith guides my personal values (particularly those that shape my career) and it determines my religious affiliation. How I spend my money shapes my happiness. Though I am a self-described tech-geek, I do not purchase every new toy that comes out: I have what I need. The decisions I make lead to that deep feeling of contentment with my life. I lay down at night with few regrets and wake up each morning excited about the opportunities in the day. Consciously making decisions with such a goal in mind impacts everything.
The concept of joy in the Christian church comes from the direct connection to God. Nothing in that connection is temporal which is what makes joy different. The Old Testament and the Gospels and Epistles list joy as a characteristic of believers. Believers gain joy by having a personal connection to God that leads to the eternal promises that come with their belief. The connection to God presents itself daily.
In the fast paced world with changes taking place faster than we can track them, contentment and joy seem like antiquated ideas. Joy, real joy, keeps us grounded like no other emotion and gives us a way to navigate the turmoil around us.