Happy happy? or Joy joy?

“The healthiest response to life is joy.” –Deepak Chopra

I usually begin my topics for the month by defining the terms that I will be talking about. But I realized that for the purposes of talking about joy, happiness, fun, and laughter, reaching for the dictionary to define these topics may not be the best thing. Specifically for joy, happiness, and fun, these are things that are as individual to each person as there are individual people. I will, however, share with you some “emotional definitions” that I have found helpful from some recovery/12 step literature. I think these emotional definitions are essential in understanding the integration of the physical and psychological reactions to these types of experiences. But first, a few words on Joy vs. Happiness.

My overall goal in life was always to be “happy.” Whatever happened, I “just wanted to be happy.” This is a main goal for most people in life. Recently I revised this goal. The revision came from a conversation with a friend several months ago where I concluded that perhaps “happiness” or “being happy” shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. In my life these days, the overall goal is JOY.

The conversation I had with my friend (we’ll call her K) was in response to my last semi-serious relationship, and it went something like this:

K: How are you doing?

Me: I’m hanging in there.

K: Don’t give me that, what the hell does that mean?

Me: Well, I just got my heart-broken. I’m so sad about it, but I don’t feel I have the right to grieve. The relationship didn’t last long.

K: Did the relationship mean something to you?

Me: Yes.

K: (Waves her hand as if to say “whatever”) Then you have the right to grieve.

Me: (Sighs) I don’t know. I’m just so sad right now. I just want to be happy.

K: Happiness is fleeting. A given person, place, or thing can make me happy at a given moment. Usually, I try to seek joy. Joy is something that is constant, even in the bad times.

This statement from my friend stopped me in my tracks. I understood what she was saying. My search for happiness would only take me moment to moment, situation to situation, relationship to relationship. But joy is an overarching state of mind. It is a reflection of a spiritual journey, the culmination of our spiritual awakenings that include the good and the bad. It is saying hello to what we are feeling…pausing and noticing what is going on…saying hello to what we believe is deficient (Brach, 2008).

 Joy – “A sense of integration of the survival traits/common behaviors. Coming out of the dark night of the soul with sureness of foot. Divided self reunited. Inner peace. Recognizing the True Self within. Knowing you can trust yourself. Seeing light in self and others. Energy and warmth throughout the body” (Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, 2006).

Now, before you start throwing things at me, this is not an anti-happiness post.

I just think it’s important for those of us who have been through a lot and who are not in denial about a perfect life, or a happy ever after, and for those of us that know that life’s challenges, whether it’s a fight with a cable guy or the murder of a loved one are all part of the process. That in spite of all the bad things or through the bad things, we can still have an overwhelming, overarching joy of living life.

Feelings are our source of joy, as well as sadness, fear, and anger.” -Melody Beattie

The “happy” moments serve another “one day at a time” type purpose, which I will explore in a later post. But first, take a moment to think about what it would take to achieve overall joy in your life. Do you already have it? If so, how did you get there? (I really want to know!) Do you think there is a difference between happiness and joy, or are they each on a continuum to living a healthy life?

Love yourself into peace, happiness, joy, success, and contentment.” -Melody Beattie


  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) – Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families (2006), World Service Organization.
  • Beattie, Melody (2009-06-10). Codependent No More (p. 143). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.
  • Beattie, Melody (2009-12-15). The Language of Letting Go (Hazelden Meditation Series) (p. 143). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.
  • Brach, Tara (2008). Radical Self-Acceptance (Audiobook), Publisher: Soundstrue.

14 thoughts on “Happy happy? or Joy joy?

  1. A wonderful post! I agree whole heartedly with the spirit of the message but would say that happiness can embody the same concepts your friend attributed to joy. As you acknowledge, terminology can get sticky when it comes to discussing concepts like joy, peace, and happiness. Whether we call it joy or happiness, what is important is that we build a foundation of spiritual strength, emotional understanding, and inner awareness that allows us to accept all that develops in our lives with a loving heart. That is what helps us pass through tough times to new tomorrows!

    Excuse the lengthy comment; but you sparked the inspiration.
    Thanks for sharing and many blessings,

    1. Hi Sloan! There never has to be an excuse for a lengthy comment, I love the lengthy comments! Thanks for taking the time and your insights! Happines and joy kind of merge together in my opinion, but for me it’s important to know when I need to step back and say things are going crappy, I’m not happy about it, but I still have joy in life!🙂

  2. Awesome post! My middle name is Joy (my birth moms was Faith) and it’s been a lifelong thing trying to find happiness but reading this reminds me that what I truly seek isn’t fleeting. Peace is another word that has come to my lips time and time again when I’ve tried to verbalize what I want for myself.

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