Happiness vs. Joy

We often use the words ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’ interchangeably, because really, who has time for semantics? However, when we take a closer look, it brings to light an important difference that we may lose sight of when getting caught up in the picturesque lives that social media helps us portray. People only put out there – on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – that which they want others to perceive is their life. This creates misconception of others’ realities; but I digress (I will write again another time about the impact that social media has on our experience of depression and anxiety another day). I only bring this up because when we talk about happiness and joy, so often the unhappiness and dissatisfaction that we experience with our own lives is spurred by the (mis)perceptions we hold of other people’s “perfect” homes, families, and jobs.

While happiness 24/7 may not be an attainable, or reasonable goal, joy can be. Perhaps consider the definition of each; happiness is the mental or emotional state of positive/pleasant feelings, while joy is the experience “evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). They sound similar, but consider that joy is the condition of one’s life, versus happiness, which comes and goes and is mostly dependent upon varying situations or environments.

Can we be joyous without feeling happiness at every moment? Sure, if you choose it! This is where the social media comes into play. There is no way to guarantee that happiness will be a constant. It comes and goes, just as sadness, anger, despair, loneliness, fear, and excitement ebbs and flows. But, can you choose to be content? Can you make decisions, choose paths, and foster relationships that provide contentment in your life? I ask this because when you do, when you make a conscious decision to choose what makes you feel good over what you “should,” you are deliberately choosing joy. And when you choose joy you will find yourself feeling more fulfilled, satisfied, loved and loving towards others, and present.

Written by Lauren Robbins, MS, LPCC, LADC