Joy vs. Happiness and How to Get More of Both

Feeling Joyful and Free

Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown gave a talk a few night’s ago to discuss her new book, Atlas of the Heart. Her research and thoughts on Joy vs. Happiness were interesting to me, as it’s a distinction my husband is often asked about, since he started Made for Joy.

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Defining Joy

Brown defines Joy, based on her research, as “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation,” as contrasted with Happiness, where her data suggests is defined as “feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances.” What struck me most was her belief that Joy is associated with connection — connection to others, to God, to nature, to the Universe — it’s more internal, she believes, whereas happiness is more external and circumstantial.

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Always with the Gratitude …

And the clearest path to deeper and more frequent Joy is through Gratitude. I know that, yet do I have a daily Gratitude practice? No, I do not. Are my bookshelves lined with Gratitude Journals begun and abandoned? Yes, they are. My best efforts lasted only days before they were forgotten in the press of work or errands or cooking or reading or any of the dozens of items that appear on my daily “To Do” list. Just five minutes is all a Gratitude Practice requires, and yet it’s five minutes that I cannot seem to find. And yet, Brown’s findings that being grateful adds to and deepens our Joy makes complete sense.

You’ve probably heard that as humans we tend to have a genetic set point of happiness that momentary ups and downs quickly modulate back to as baseline. But Brown’s research leads her to believe that practicing gratitude can extract more from our best moments. Yes, the “newness” and excitement of that car, house, dress, shoe, spouse will fade, but if we take the time to appreciate it, the feelings of joy and happiness derived from it will be deeper, and perhaps longer-lasting.

Foreboding Joy (sounds scary!)

One other take-away on Joy that spoke to me, Brown calls “foreboding Joy.” Never heard of it, but definitely have experienced it. It’s when “you’re afraid to lean into good news, wonderful moments, and joy.” You are afraid that if you lean into it, fully experience and embrace it, you’ll only end up hurt more in the end. You wait for the other shoe to drop, as surely it will, and by protecting yourself from that assumed inevitability you also shield yourself from truly feeling deep joy. Truly experiencing Joy, Brown says, is an act of vulnerability. Her research found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy also practice gratitude. There’s that Gratitude word again. Pursuing me, relentlessly. Demanding that I pay attention if I want to truly live my fullest, my best life.

My Life Lesson

The lesson I got from reading Brown’s thoughts on Joy and Happiness? Be grateful for each joyful moment life brings me. Soak it in — smell, taste, touch, feel and embrace it fully. It’s not going to last forever, and surely some obstacle or challenge or depressing or sad or horrible thing also lies ahead, but at least by embracing the moments of joy that equally await I will have the resilience, strength and courage to take on whatever life may bring. The best way to do that?

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Connect — with others, with Nature, with the Universe…

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Practice Gratitude. Picking up one of my many gratitude journals and going for it again!

The Sun Magazine | The Mystic And The Warrior

The Sun Magazine | The Mystic And The Warrior.

They got me at hello, or the magazine equivalent of it.  Just received my first issue of The Sun Magazine and turned to the first article and am hooked.  The story of the Mystic and the Warrior former priest Matthew Fox speaks to my soul.  It isn’t about original sin and questioning our existence on earth, but about God’s original blessing of life to each of us, at the divine within us, about love and the feminine as well as the masculine, about embracing science and God, about relationship, about a “regrinding of faith in a mystical, prophetic, cosmological worldview.”  Beautiful stuff.  In the article he quotes David Orr as saying “Hope is a verb with its shirt sleeves rolled up.”  Let’s get to work, let’s love God, let’s love life … let’s just exude, bathe in, celebrate and spread love.

Surf and Sand in Laguna Beach

My practice group has its annual retreat at Surf and Sand in Laguna Beach each year, and there is nothing better than having a room overlooking the ocean.  They even provide ear plugs in case for some crazy reason you want to block the roar of the surf crashing into the sand below your balcony.

Surf and Sand

Surf and Sand

As if.  There’s something about hearing the surf pound the sand and then retreat, the sunlight glistening on the waves and melding into the blue of the sky on the horizon that makes it hard not to be at peace.  I’m supposed to participate in a scavenger hunt with my team members this afternoon but I can’t drag myself away from the balcony of my room.


Surf and Sand

Surf and Sand

Laguna Beach is one of my favorite Orange County spots, with funky boutiques and more art galleries than you have time to visit and, of course, the gorgeous ocean and beaches.  It also makes you want to reflect and inspires you … well, inspires me at least … to write.

When there are many other things, including participating in the Scavenger Hunt, that I should be doing.  But that’s been my problem as long as I can remember … I feel obligated to do what I should be doing or guilty that I’m not doing what I believe I should be doing and who came up with this “should” anyway?  Why is it easier to deny the things my heart and soul want me to do to choose instead the things my head says I must do regardless of whether I enjoy them?  No matter how many O Magazine articles I read or TED talks I view or things I know to be true.  No matter that my 45-year-old friend was killed at lunch a few days ago and an 18-year-old classmate of my daughter at SDSU who was fine on Monday and thought she had the flu on Tuesday died of meningitis on Saturday — two tragic reminders that I may not live through this evening, so shouldn’t I at least try to live my best life now, today, right this minute and not some vague future year when I’ve got it all figured out — I still keep on plodding along as if I had all the time in the world.

I don’t. But I’m going to enjoy the view from my balcony this afternoon and soak in all the beauty around me without even a tinge of guilt, at least for today.

Coaching Christlikeness



I began a Coaching Christlikeness class with Neal Nybo at church today, devoting myself to spending eight weeks learning more about myself, more about Jesus, and more about the path that will lead me to the life I want.  The scary part?  I’ll also be challenged to surrender things that are important to me.  To deny myself, and my wants.  To surrender control.  Scary stuff.  The love and gratitude and peace all sound wonderful … but getting there along a path of surrender, denial, and loss of control?  Taking down my protective barriers built up over 54 years and being brave enough to be fully vulnerable?  To stop talking and thinking and doing and rest in silence to listen to God?  Not sure if I can do it.  But for today, at least, I’ll try.

I have big dreams of retiring early and of spending a year in France, of long walks and daily yoga and reading under the shade of the oak tree in my back yard for long hours at a time.  


What if God has some other plan for me?  A plan involving long hours of feeding the homeless or building orphanages in Afghanistan or who knows what else that takes all my money and all my time?  


(How can someone see this child and not want to help her?)

God’s plan may be something I’ve never even considered and can’t imagine, and it might be nothing like what I think I want my life to be.  But I know to live my fullest life, to live my best life, is to live the life God planned for me, whatever that may be.

Today’s lesson focused on Belief, and Neal interspersed quotes from his mentor, Dallas Willard, with Jillian Michaels, among others (finding examples for our spiritual lives in the words at the end of Ripped in Thirty is just one of the things I love about Neal!)  Jillian was speaking of physical exercise, but the words fit well in our spiritual lives as well.  To quote her:

“Most people don’t show up in their own lives.  They go through life every single day without being focused and bringing their A game.  Transformation is not a future event.  It is a present activity.  That is why you must bring everything that you have to give in every moment.  And it doesn’t have to be perfect.  It isn’t about perfect.  It’s about effort.  When you bring that effort every single day that’s where transformation happens.  That’s how change occurs.”

We started class by listing three things we believe to be true — so true that I am prepared to live my life trusting it to be true.  That the sun will rise every morning.  That my kids will be okay, despite some bumps and bruises along the way.  That my parents love me, even if it’s in their own unique way.  I live my life each day knowing and believing those things to be true.  Next, three spiritual beliefs that we’re prepared to live our lives based on.  I stole my three from Neal.  (Note to self: perhaps stealing rather than using original thought is not the best way to uncover my own truth?)  But to be fair I do really believe these three things, so the fact Neal also believes them doesn’t make them any less true for me.

1.  God is a loving God (at times I did question this, with good people dying, bad people thriving, and all the things that aren’t perfect and don’t work the way it seems as if they should, but ultimately I’ve confirmed my belief that above all else, God loves)

2.  God loves me (yes, even me, even when I’m stupid and sinful and ignore Him and even if He knows I Could Do Better)

3.  God has a plan for me, and if I do anything less, it will be second best.  (And I’ve done a lot of second best in my life.)



If we believe it, we should act as if it is so.

Neal closed by assigning homework — three times this week we are to sit in silence and solitude.  First, for five minutes, then 10, then 15.  Silence to allow God to speak to us, should He so choose.  God doesn’t tend to interrupt us.  If we are busy with our own thoughts, He doesn’t usually butt in.  But if we sit in silence, listening for His voice, He may speak.  If we ask, “is there anything you’d like to teach me?” He just might let us know that, in fact, there is.  

So I sat in silence, with eyes closed, for 10 minutes today (I’m a Type A … what’s 5 minutes when I can do 10?)  I didn’t hear God, and I almost fell asleep, but I sat.  I decided to sit for 5 more, with eyes open.  I’m not sure I heard God speak to me, but I felt it was step 1 of a long process of being open, receptive, still and willing.  I’m in, and curious and excited to see where it all leads.  Thanks for coming along with me on the journey.