Joy vs. Happiness

Joy spelled out in scrabble tiles

I remember telling my wife that I wasn’t happy. I didn’t think I was depressed, I just wasn’t happy. A few days later I think I said I was unhappy, but not depressed. Within a couple of weeks I said, “okay, I’m depressed.”

I was thinking about this recently.  Brendon Burchard talks about “bringing the joy”, that you have to generate joy and share it with others. That’s all well and good, but what about when I don’t feel like being happy? What happens on those days that I’m unhappy, or those periods when I’m depressed?

A few weeks ago I was listening to a guided meditation from Sebene Selassie and she was talking about happiness and joy and how they’re not the same thing. Frequently, if I’m being honest, usually when I meditate, my mind wanders away from the meditation, but this caught and held my attention. 

She said, “One way I think of joy is it’s different from happiness. Happiness has an opposite, unhappiness.  Joy to me is a state of being, even when things are difficult. I think of when my mom was dying , such a hard moment, but I had joy in being able to be there with her in her final moments. I wasn’t happy, but there was joy.  Joy is possible in any moment. Joy is appreciating the good in any moment, without pushing away or denying what might be unpleasant. Joy is the emotional equivalent of the glass half full.”

We’re having a lot of hard moments these days, but when I think about Sebene said, I think of the time I’ve had with my daughter, the things I’ve learned about my colleagues, the morning walks I’ve had time to go on with my wife and dog because I’m not catching the bus to work. When I think of joy as “appreciating the good in any moment”, I realize that I can find joy even when I may not be happy.

Will this work for me when I’m depressed (I’m a realist so I know the chances are high that I’ll have another bout)?  I don’t know, but just as I look at meditation, exercise, medication, therapy, and  engaging in a gratitude practice as laying the foundation that will help me through that, I’m hopeful that thinking of “bringing” or finding the joy even in the “hard moments” will be another part of that foundation.

Where can you find joy today? How can you bring joy for others?


  1. Maria says:

    Absolutely! I am working in the same direction. Also the book ‘Uncovering happiness’ by Dr. Elisha Goldstein really helps

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