In scouring my bookshelves this morning, searching for some tidbits of inspiration to share with you all, I reached for a book I read years ago, The Power of a Positive Mom by Christian writer and speaker Karol Ladd. This notion jumped out at me: “There is a distinct difference between happiness and joy.”
She notes that happiness is manifested more in moments and circumstances, such as a surprise flower delivery, but joy runs deeper. According to Ladd, joy is “a consistent attitude of peace, confidence and satisfaction that resides deep within you because you know a loving God is at work in your life.” (My inspiration in action translation: piles of dirty dishes and laundry may not bring me happiness, but the blessings of family and home provide deep, sustaining joy.)
Ladd elaborates further in the chapter, “a quiet, joyful peace can still reside in us even as we work through sadness, grief and pain.” Immediately I pictured some close friends in my life who embody these words exactly. All of us lost cherished fathers in the same year, but, while I felt like the grief really stole my joy for a while, they were examples of how to remain joyful in the midst of wrestling with sadness. They always had a smile or hug for the people around them. Ladd, who herself was just thirty when she lost her beloved mother in a car accident, shares, “we had the assurance that my mother, a godly woman, was in heaven with the Lord. Did we smile? No, this was not the time for smiling; it was the time for grieving. But when our grieving had run its course, the smiles returned.”
I found this whole concept of happiness being different that joy very intruiging. Why had I not realized this distinction before?
A quick internet search supported this premise. “Happiness is external,” writes Sandra Brown, M.A. in a 2012 article for Psychology Today. “it’s based on situations, events, people, thoughts…Joy is almost a mystery, isn’t it? It’s a spiritual quality that is internal… Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, why you are…When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy… that is not rocked by anything.”
So I can’t always control the situations which spark happiness, or other emotions such as frustration, sadness, anger. But I can control whether or not those instances will deplete, or fill, my joy meter. This takes the pressure off to feel happy all the time, and concentrate instead on being a joyful person.
“Teaching yourself to be joyful is the single greatest thing you could do to enhance your health,” states an article, although a bit dated from 2002, from the Alive newsletter. “Advancing medical technology is enabling us to learn how the human physiology and psyche are affected by negative and positive emotions. Our three primary negative emotions–fear, anger and sadness–have devastating effects on our bodies when experienced in a prolonged state. On the other hand, our two primary positive emotions–joy and excitement–are like medicine to the body…”
So now, the sun is rising behind the hills I can see from my kitchen window, painting the sky with a beautiful brushstroke of orangy-pink clouds. The quiet of the early morning is over, as I hear my kiddos rustling into their morning routine down the hall. Just one quick check on Facebook before jumping into the day, and what does it reveal? Several states away, a treasured younger cousin has changed her profile picture to the beautiful newborn boy she gave birth to just this morning. Joyfulness abounds.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18