I joined an expressive writing class not so long ago, and since it's wrapping up I thought I'd post some of the scribbles I came up with down here for curious readers who might happen by. This one is a reflection on a reading we had contrasting joy and happiness. Here are my thoughts...
The difference between joy and happiness isn’t an easy distinction to me. I suppose I find that joy would have to be times when happiness was not bound by the harsh realities that life imposes on us, or that we impose on ourselves. Times that we are truly free, experiencing happiness raw and unadulterated, undistracted by the presences of worry and woe. In that sense, joy is the liberation of happiness, to let oneself feel truly happy from the core of the ego to the aura of being, to the ability to smell and smile happy, without effort or intent.
The people around you are honest judges of this, though it’s possible to feel joy without human companionship. It’s just harder to pick up. When people are around real joy, they echo it, in their actions and in their presence. They feel it, and they share it, and they shine it back on you. And you don’t even need a mirror, because that’s how you see yourself, you see how they feel, how you feel.
That’s a rare thing, but it’s there sometimes. And it’s not a time where happiness is the most powerful thing in the room. You can miss happiness; you can’t do that with joy.
How many times do you look back and say, “But was I truly happy?” It happens in moments of doubt. We second-guess our happiness. That doesn’t happen with joy. Nobody ever asks, “But was that a joyful moment?” It’s a fact, it’s a force. It’s when something so powerful and positive happens that it’s like a light so bright you can’t see anything in the dark. You don’t even remember what dark looks like. Think back on one of those times, and you’ll know joy before the question even forms in your head.
It’s harder to feel joy when you’re alone, but that’s because in my mind true solitary joy is peace. To ask oneself if one is peaceful is as difficult as asking if it is joyful. These feelings lack context, they lack perspective, they lack objective conscious confirmation. That’s where people are helpful, but solitary joy is not an easy thing to achieve, and it is impossible if you’re trying to rely on the human barometer.
But as I said before, there is one easy way to know if there is joy. And that is to ask, “Was there a light?” Being among friends and family, it’s easy to pick up on their joy, to be joyful (or maybe just happy). When you’re alone though, these socio-emotional dynamics aren’t there. It’s like a bar, a club, a concert where the lights have come on at the end of the show. Except there’s no one there. No positive partygoers, no downer partycrashers. Just you and the environment, your thoughts and your self. So you ask yourself, “Was there a light?” Even though there was nobody there, were there clouds? Were there worries? Did you spot the cracks in the walls and the signs of good times past? Did you worry that the end of the month was coming? The end of the year? What was it like in that place when all the people disappeared?
Was there a light?