Is there a Relationship between Happiness and Joy?

Written by on July 30, 2011 in Psych - No comments
How to Achieve Happiness and Joy

I am going to be discussing with you the differences between Joy and Happiness, and, ways in which you can receive both in life.

How to Achieve Happiness and Joy

Happiness is a blurred emotion. It can mean different things to many people and part of a psychologist’s quest is to identify all of the different uses of the word. Most of us will agree that happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive feelings ranging from contentment to intense joy. Those who believe in positive psychology strive to apply research methods to answer questions about what happiness is and how it can be attained. It is well known that happy people are generally physically and emotionally healthier than unhappy ones. There is evidence suggesting that people can increase their level happiness with actions like exercising to release endorphins. And various habits have been associated with happiness, such as eating well. I view mood disorders like depression, through a bio-psycho-social model, meaning there is no single cause. Biological, psychological, and social factors all contribute mood. This model suggests that everyone can benefit, in varying degrees from habits and practices identified by positive health psychology.

How People Try to Be Happy

Studies have found that acquiring money, an education, a big house or an expensive car do not affect happiness levels as much as we would like or might expect. Many different types of researchers have followed people who win the lottery and have found year after year, that those people who have won are no happier than the people who did not have this experience. This is called it a hedonistic adaptation, which suggests that everyone has a baseline level of the emotion called happiness. The effects of happiness are temporary and people tend to revert back to their baseline level once they have received something external or materialistic in nature. People’s baseline levels of happiness vary which can be attributed in part to genetics (notice the temperaments of infants). However there are behaviors that people can practice to increase that baseline level, and attitudes can be adjusted; such as making a conscious attempt to enjoy your day. Challenges along the way can be viewed as opportunities to learn and grow. Enjoying high quality of life does not depend as much on money and material comfort as we might be led to believe, but, upon fulfilling the emotional need for that temporary feeling of happiness.

How People Try to Be Joyful

Being joyful requires feeling connected with the environment, with people in your life, with nature, with appreciating the arts (music, creativity, books) and it requires an acceptance of life, as it is, in the present. Sometimes life does not treat us well, financial devastation, getting sick, a divorce, having a chronic illness, being disabled, death of a loved one, or adapting to growing older. These transitions or challenges are all aspects of life and we will have them in varying degrees until the day we die. Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have fun for the moment, despite life’s challenges. It is an internal lasting emotional phenomenon.

During periods of joyfulness, physiological and biochemical changes take place that give us a sense of well-being, completely altering negative outlooks on life. Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes us even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within, it is an internal belief.  Joy, in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. It is not based on something good happening, but is an attitude of the heart or spirit.

There is evidence that suggests having a religious belief helps people cope with the stresses and strains of life. Therefore, to answer the question is there a relationship between happiness and joy, in the Biblical sense, is no. So happiness really isn’t the emotion that many strive to find and keep? Nobody is happy all of the time, but some people are definitely more fulfilled and content than others.

Studies on what makes people happy reveal that it does not have much to do with material goods or high achievement; it seems to be to our outlook on life and the quality of our relationships and the ability to give and receive.  Joy is much more…..

A Few Tips on How to Feel Happiness and Joy

  1. Choosing to Smile and consciously deciding to have a good day induces endorphins and other uplifting chemicals in the brain. Nothing can dampen your mood when you know the techniques involving how to bring on joy. We can all indeed develop inner joy. Using these techniques can bring on temporary happiness, however practice frequently throughout the day and on a daily basis this technique will increase your baseline happiness level and bring on the more consistent feeling of Joy.
  2. Meditation and Imagining that you have received something you wish will improve happiness which is of short duration. However, it is important to avoid mixing this fantasy with your reality. Wishing you had something is very temporary. With practice, meditation in the spiritual sense will bring about lasting joy.
  3. Positive Thinking or making it your goal to think positive often brings happiness to the surface quickly. Adopting a positive attitude can indeed improve your mood and bring on temporary happiness. Regardless of the problem, situation, or circumstance, you do get to choose whether you want to feel happy and joyful, or depressed and sad. The key is to practice this technique and make it a daily goal. Practice recognizing the simple delights in life.
  4. Feeling Grateful about what you do have is a deeper emotion and consciously practicing, focusing on what you feel grateful for in life will increase your baseline level of happiness and bring on that lasting feeling of joy. Feeling grateful for your health, employment, family, friends, home, etc., makes us feel good. This is an extreme example, I know, but if you are not going grow back a limb, or get rid of that pain, feeling grateful for all your working pain free parts will help cope with the situation. (Note: I am encouraging you to accept yourself as you are, and in no way do I intend for you to not emotionally sooth yourself for the loss, that is not the topic of this article)
  5. Notice Your Immediate Surroundings this very second. Stop and notice the things that you like in your world.  Right now. You will find plenty of proof that happiness is everywhere you just have to be aware.  Stopping and noticing the positive pieces of your immediate surroundings will consistently increase your ability (increase your baseline level) to go for the feeling of joy. Stop….Ask yourself, “What is good about this moment”?
  6. Become Active and Support a cause that you really believe is worthy. Or get active on a smaller scale by practicing random acts of kindness. Helping others increases the endorphin like chemicals in your brain.  Becoming active in a cause helps you to feel in control (empowered), especially when facing a difficult life challenge.  As most of you reading this probably already notice that practicing an activity just a little will bring on moments of temporary happiness, practicing this activity on a consistent basis will bring on joy, which will help you manage the life storms.
Is There a Relationship Between Happiness and Joy? 

Yes and No.  Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is something that is temporary.  Joy is an internal, conscious belief.  Happiness is external. Something we may feel for a short time, for example, when we buy something that we desire. Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment when we are in the middle of a life storm. Happiness is not present in a life storm. Your genetic baseline level of happiness which is based on the personality style in which you were born with can increase over time. You can receive the internal feeling consistent joy with practicing the above behaviors and techniques.

Strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today!

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, RN., Psy’D.
Health Psychology of San Diego
760 439-9331

Health Psychology of San Diego

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