I always thought that “joy” was such a trivial word. Like many, I thought it was an over-simplified synonym for happiness. I often heard it spouted by over-zealous Christians who, to me, were the same people who stuck their heads in the sand at the first sign of any kind of unrest. Joy was an unproductive and powerless three-letter word. “War” was perhaps the only powerful one that came to mind…
I had experienced joy in my own life obviously, but I never understood the vast distinction between joy and happiness until earlier this year. Maybe I had never given it enough thought, but in 2018, I was hit with countless signs that I needed to pay more attention to joy. I learned that prioritizing joy not only changes your perspective on life, but it changes the entire course of it. (Spoiler alert: this has nothing to do with being a pessimist or an optimist.)
So what the hell is the difference? Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes, just like anger, sadness or any other emotion. It’s circumstantial, it’s complicated, and it’s wildly subjective in that what makes me happy might not do the same for you or to the same extent. You can officially stop chasing after happiness now. In the same way that it’s not healthy to be a passive aggressive a-hole who runs away from anger, it’s also not healthy to be an ungrateful victim who wastes time trying to attain constant happiness. Yes, you are allowed to better yourself, so let’s not digress into that discussion. The bottom line is that practicing contentment (thoroughly embracing the concepts of enough and self-acceptance) is a better use of your precious time here on earth.
Joy, on the other hand, is always attainable. It’s this ever-present current of energy that we often ignore, but can tap into whenever we want. (Like when you can hear the high pitched frequency of a TV in another room, even when the volume is muted…um, or is that just me?) It is entirely possible to access joy when we are in pain, when we are depressed, and when we are in the midst of terrible circumstances. In fact, joy helps us feel hope during really dark times. (Have you even seen something breathtaking in nature right when you were looking for a sign?) Joy is often prompted by sensory stimuli, like the smell of cookies baking, the sight of a butterfly, or the sound of a beautiful instrument. The more present you can be in your day-to-day life, the more joy you’ll notice (and feel). There are also a few proven things you can do to your environment to feel joy more often, as is chronicled in detail on the blog The Aesthetics of Joy. In fact, there is evidence that specific shapes and colors trigger joy in our brains. What are the common denominators in the things you find absolutely magical, the things that bring you joy? This is likely why Disney World is the happiest place on earth for so many people. It sure as hell ain’t the long lines, relentless heat, crying children, or rude guests…
Ingrid Fetell Lee’s TED Talk, Where Joy Hides and How to Find It, is what finally led me to the decision to focus on joy in 2019. As I listened to it, every hint from 2018 washed over me. Tapping into a childlike bliss seemed to be the remedy to all that ailed me. Even my doctor prescribed that I enjoy my life during my annual wellness exam!
It may seem like proclaiming 2019 as The Year of Joy is a pipe dream coming from someone who recently lost her mother, but it is in many ways because of her, because of her life, and because of her death that I’m accepting the challenge. I know that I can experience joy while feeling the depths of sadness (in part, because she did it all the time).
As I embark on this journey, I’ll share with you what I’m doing and how it’s going. I’m starting by shifting my time to make room for things that bring me joy. In my home, in my wardrobe, and in my free time, I’ll be prioritizing color, art, laughter, endorphins, rest, nature, and celebration. Now excuse me while I roll around in New Year’s Eve confetti. Join me! No day but today.