Joy and happiness are often understood to be the same thing, but, in fact, they’re very different. Happiness is an emotion that is aroused in us when we buy a new car or get a promotion at work. It’s dependent on our circumstances occurring in accordance with our desires. Joy is an emotion that occurs within us when we develop an appreciation/thankfulness for the constants of life, such as nature, freedom, relationships with people, or through having faith in something larger than ourselves.

Discovering the difference between happiness and joy is not about seeing one as better than the other, but instead, realizing they’re just different. Being happy as a result of good circumstances taking place is natural; however, we can’t rely on having good circumstances all the time. It’s not realistic. Happiness is not an emotion that we learn; we automatically get it. Joy, on the other hand, is an emotion that can predominantly rule our daily lives. We must develop and teach ourselves joy, much like the process of getting physically fit.

When I was 14, I remember so clearly how I determined I was to do whatever was necessary to find happiness. After 20 years of experiencing better cars, bigger houses and more adventures, I finally admitted to myself that the temporary high of happiness was like smoking marijuana: the highs are great at the beginning, but the longer you smoke it, the more the thrill diminishes–to the point where it becomes an addiction.

Joy is a powerful emotion and the opposite of fear, our second most influential emotion. My observation is that these two emotions are in a constant battle, and when joy loses to fear, we tend to settle for sporadic happy highs, which can also become an addictive behavior pattern.

Since I have been teaching myself how to be more joyful, I have starting observing joyful people. They seem to have many commonalities. They are in good health. They value discipline and strong relationships. They’re appreciative and thankful, and they don’t allow themselves to have spiking happy highs when great things happen. Alternatively, they resist major discouragement and downs when bad things happen.

Teaching yourself to be joyful is the single greatest thing you could do to enhance your health. 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, as we discussed in last month’s column.

Everyone has a choice to live in joy and excitement or in fear, anger and sadness-regardless of their circumstances. Some people, however, think that until their difficult circumstances change, fear, anger and sadness will not subside and that’s an illusion that can be overcome, if desired. Because fear is more of an illusion than a reality, the probability of gaining control over it or other debilitating emotions is very high. Now that’s something to be joyful about.

About the Author

Vic Lebouthillier is a managing partner with Columbia Group, a business consulting service that works with businesses to help increase their teamwork and effectiveness. Comments are welcome at vicl@hotmail.com. To view other related articles, please see c