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Finding Joy

March 01, 2018

Contrasting Happiness and Joy

By: Carolyn Robbins, RN, MSN, CSN

Did you have a good day? Were you happy? What moved you to laughter? Are you at peace? Are you joy-filled? As you read this blog, think about these questions. Do you notice the difference in questions that are 'experience-based' versus 'heart-based'? Questions like: did you have a good day, were you happy, and what moved you to laughter are questions that focus on experiences of daily living and our response to them. Are you at peace and are you joy-filled, lead us to a deeper level. Such is the difference between happiness and joy.


The word happiness derives from the Old English or Old Norse root word hap, which means luck. In fact, the word happiness in all ancient languages originates from this root word. By chance or by luck directs the overall meaning of the word. According to Darrin M. McMahon, Ph.D., this linguistic pattern indicates that in the ancient world, people believed that happiness was not within our control but rather left up to fate. Happiness is an emotional state that is often connected with external events or circumstances. Happiness is your momentary emotional response to positive situations, luck, good fortunes, or pleasures. Sometimes these are material, sometimes these are relational, but they are always fleeting and pass with time.


Joy is also an emotion but it swells from an inner state of being. It is an attitude and has elements of contentment, gratefulness, and peace. Joy can be cultivated and it lasts beyond the moment of happiness. It is more satisfying to the soul because it is not generally connected to external experiences. Joy is at the core of your being. It lies within you.

  • "If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment." - Carlos Santana
  • "Joy, feeling one's own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul." - Maria Montessori
  • "Joy is a prayer; joy is a strength; joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." - Mother Teresa

Cultivating Joy

The question then becomes, how do you attain joy? If joy is an inner peace and contentment, how do you reach for it? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Be still and present to the moment: take a moment each day to be still, to quiet your mind and breathe. You can use this time to meditate or pray.
  2. Journal: Journaling is a wonderful ay to learn about yourself and your emotions.
  3. Serve: Serving other and giving selflessly allows you to step outside of your own needs and to focus on the needs of others. It often helps you to learn about yourself in the process and feel a sense of purpose.
  4. Practice gratitude: Look for moments of thankfulness every day - the warmth of the sun, the smell of a good meal or a cup of coffee, a smile from a friend. You can note your moments in your journal every day.
  5. Get together: Limit social media and engage in face to face relationships. Contact a friend, have a meal together, enjoy.

Joy versus happiness? Here is a suggestion: have many happy moments in life but strive for the state of well-being brought about by inner joy... it lasts!

Mel Robbin: "The Big Difference Between Happiness and Joy".

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