Expressive Woman Smiling and Laughing in Joy Yellow

Joy vs Happiness

As we’ve gone out and spread the word on joy, one of the most common misunderstandings and questions we get is around how joy relates to happiness. So, let us clear this up.

Now, I could quote you the Webster’s dictionary definition, but I’m guessing you know how to look that up. And, even there, you’ll find subtle yet critically important differences. But, in everyday language, the words “happiness” and “joy” are used as if they were exact replacements for one another. And this is where the confusion starts.

In short, happiness is momentary whereas joy is a state of being and, therefore, much longer lasting, and consequently of significantly more interest to us when we are trying to understand who you really are and how you can operate best in this world. The best example I have to illuminate the difference between joy and happiness is a tad racy, but if you’ll indulge me, I’ll explain:

Disclaimer: what follows has some “adult” language, so if your six-year-old is reading along with you, consider this your heads up:

Joy vs Happiness vs Pleasure

At the basest level there is pleasure. Pleasure is even more momentary than happiness. So, in our example, we will start with the idea of an orgasm (you were warned). Orgasms are great! They’re pleasurable and a lot of fun. And, they can even be had in a number of ways. But, regardless of how much we might enjoy orgasms, we know that to constantly pursue orgasms is not a productive way to live. To do so would be pleasure-seeking, and is the same thing that can lead to myriad addictions and disorders, be it orgasms, drugs, food, or just about any other pleasure. It is possible to fall into the trap of seeking those very momentary and fleeting highs without understanding how it exists in context. We don’t care how, or with who, or what it costs, we just want an orgasm – and this is clearly an unhealthy approach.

When I know your joy, I know you.
When you are in your joy, you are fully you.

So, realizing this, most of us elevate and instead pursue happiness. The equivalent here in our example would be the act of sex. Sex is certainly more than just an orgasm, but orgasms do tend to occur when we have sex. So, sex by one perspective is broader than an orgasm as more is happening, but at the same time it is more specific as it also eliminates other means to get to orgasm like masturbation. Note too that by elevating into sex we begin to include things that are less pleasurable than the orgasm itself. Perhaps we are nervous about getting naked in front of someone else or don’t particularly care for that one sex position our partner likes best. But, on the whole, sex  like orgasms, is pretty great and a lot of fun. Also, just like the pursuit of orgasms, blindly pursuing sex can lead to problems. And, the final important feature of sex is that when we are fist introduced to sex it is often and readily conflated as love. Understanding the difference between the two is something we have to learn and is absolutely critical for our well-being broadly, and for our sexual well-being more specifically.

Love, in our example, would be the equivalent to joy. We had to learn that sex does not equal love, and then redirect our pursuits to find love, not just sex. So too must we elevate our understanding around happiness and joy. We know that in love, sex and therefore orgasms naturally occur. We develop a maturity to know that if we find love, those pleasurable and happy things will naturally and inevitably follow. And, just like elevating from pleasure to happiness, by elevating into joy we’ve gone both broader and more specific. Love includes far more than sex, but it also is very specific as to whom you’ll have it with. This is why we often say that love is more productive than happiness. 

At the same time, it is vitally important that we note that, in love, not everything is super great all the time. By elevating into love we now have to also include the inevitable arguing with our loved one, hurt feelings, and all sorts of other things that we know are included in love. But, the fact that everything isn’t rosy all the time is not the focus here. Anyone who told you love meant everything be perfect was lying to you! Love is a journey. Learning to love yourself is a journey and a rather worthy one at that. Learning to cultivate and co-create love with someone else is a journey as well. So love is not an end state. It is a continuous evolution. The same is true for joy. 

Happiness is smiling because the sun is out.
Joy is dancing in the rain.

Why Knowing Joy Is So Valuable

Understanding this, and separating joy from happiness and pleasure is vital and deeply powerful work. Joy is very broad in that it includes far more than just the acts of happiness. But, at the same time is very specific in how it manifests. It is by understanding both its broadness and specificity and how that manifests in your life, that allows it to become such a powerful mechanism for life-altering change. When we understand our joy, express our joy, and build our lives around our joy, we are constantly being tapped back into our Whole Selves and into the best version of who we can be. No, not every moment is filled with pleasure and happiness – to get that we’d have to go down the pleasure-seeking or happiness-seeking pathways that only lead to trouble. But, just as you are able to reconcile yourself after a fight with your spouse that the argument was a part of love, and that your love is so much greater than the discomfort of the quarrel, so too will you be able to overcome moments of adversity as long as you remain conscious of your joy and never-ending pursuit of it.

When you are in your Whole Self, you are unstoppable.
Breathe and be whole.

This differentiation is critical. And, it is why when we at The Big Joy Theory hear about happiness in the news or various courses and programs people are taking in pursuit of happiness, we can’t help but to roll our eyes just as you might if you saw someone endlessly seeking sex and orgasms.

So, instead, elevate. No longer conflate joy with happiness, just as you’ve likely already done with love and sex. Understand that there is something more that is so much greater and more important. And, if that young naïve voice in your head ever speaks up wondering if you’ll ever have happiness and pleasure if you don’t focus on them specifically, then console that voice by knowing that you will absolutely have happiness and pleasure, likely more than you have ever had before! It is just that pleasure and happiness no longer serve you as the productive focus of your attention as you elevate into joy and your Whole Self. Choose joy. Know love. And rest comfortably in the knowledge that all the sex, orgasms, happiness, and pleasure, will naturally follow.