The key difference between Happiness and Joy is that Happiness comes from without, while joy is to be found within.
"Make each day useful and cheerful and prove that you know the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be happy, old age without regret and life a beautiful success."
Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888, Author
The quote from Louisa May Alcott is indeed a good recipe for happiness and from that perspective gives good advice, and some days that might be perfect if this is what we intend for our self in that moment. As a lifetime goal though, we can instead set the bar far higher and intend for joy to become our primary experience.
Speaking about the great author and philosopher Alan Watts, a close friend of his called Elsa Gidlow commented on the development of his thoughts and ideas and his growing into the spirit of the Tao, a profoundly accepting religion based in China:
‘….it transformed him as he allowed it to permeate his being, so that the reserved, somewhat uptight young Englishman, living overmuch in his head, in the mature years became an outgoing, spontaneously playful, joyous world sage. He believed that a wide-spread absorption of the profound wisdom of Taoism could similarly transform the West.’
Taoism can be summarised in one word as ‘flow’; to be a Taoist is to live within the flow, rather than attempting to swim against it. The practice is to be in acceptance of all things, and practice non- judgement towards all things.
The physical manifestation of our world matches our internal reality and provides a reference point as to how well we are manifesting our highest purpose. Pain and discomfort give feedback that change is required, continued pain and discomfort signals that we are engaged in a struggle with that change, born of an unwillingness to accept it. This struggle can apply in any of the area of life, be that diet, work, relationships, the thoughts we have or indeed any other area. We receive feedback from the outside world which thereby functions as a mirror within which we can see our judgement of that which is within ourselves. The choice open to us when our experience of life provides painful feedback, is either to change our experiences, or our reactions to our experiences.
Happiness: Happiness can be found in changing our circumstances
Joy: Joy is an emotion experienced from changing our relationship to our circumstances
This is the difference between a material activity and a spiritual one.
In study after study, it is found that people with faith are happier. But why is that? Delusion? Blissful ignorance? Is it maybe because at heart the great religions encapsulate the principle of accepting ‘what is’ rather than struggling against it, instead forgiving whatever presents itself before us as simply being an expression of the perfect eternal-now-moment? Spiritual mindedness is an integral part of being able to experience true joy in this life. As the spiritual realm is also discovered by looking within it follows that the spirituality provides a gateway for those seeking true joy.
The culture we live in is primarily based on a creed of promoting the egotistic self, success recognised in terms of financial achievement or attainment of individual reward such as Oscars, business achievement, best sellers or gold medals. We do not place nearly so much emphasis on fulfilling our role within the whole; A gold medal in the relay is far less lauded than a gold medal in an individual event. How we look is rated far above most other attributes, testimony to that is the amount of money spent on cosmetics, gyms, clothes and accoutrements designed to make the owner look successful. We also happen to live in one of the most depressed cultures that has ever existed.
Searching for validation and fulfilment in this way does not appear to deliver satisfaction, despite achievement of the trappings of success, we can never be rich enough or famous enough to scratch that particular itch. So where does satisfaction and fulfilment come from?
"Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."
James Matthew Barrie, 1860-1937, Author of Peter Pan
It is very interesting to note that the emotions associated with Beta Endorphins, our primary chemical reward system whose action is mimicked by the opiates, are those that produce the feeling of ‘connectedness’. Without sufficient amounts of these chemicals in our bloodstream we feel lonely and unhappy. With them we feel loving and loved. The key word here is ‘connectedness’ and the best way to experience that feeling is to live in a manner that acknowledges the connection between us all and between all things, i.e. to live unselfishly. Living selflessly is to understand that by giving energy, money, food, time, good wishes, you are simultaneously receiving these things. In a universe in which all things are connected and at the deepest level there is only ‘oneness’, you cannot be the giver without at the same time being the recipient. It is actually very obvious in our day to day experience and it is only in more complex chains of events that we lose sight of this truth, we all know that to give a smile to a stranger is to immediately receive the pleasure of that experience.