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!