Choose Joy!

Published On: May 8, 2024Categories: Blog

As a therapist, often clients come to the first session and when asked what they would like to achieve in therapy, they respond that they want to feel happy. They want a happier relationship with their partner or with their children; they want to feel happier in their work or just want a happier experience in general. In response to statements like these, I would typically launch into a mini psychoeducational lesson about the difference between happiness and joy and why in today’s society the pursuit of joy rather than the pursuit of happiness is the way to go.  

There is a lot of research and information about the difference between the two. In fact, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote a book about it called The Book of Joy. 

Happiness is a short-lived emotion or feeling that is usually brought on by a specific experience. It is often fleeting or fades when the happy experience or stimuli has passed; happiness is unsustainable. By contrast, joy is an emotion that is earned over time and is often hard won. Have you ever been through a difficult period with a child or a partner and after emerging from that dark period look back and feel a sense of deep satisfaction and contentment? That’s joy.  

Joy is not mutually exclusive to pain or suffering. Maintaining a sense of joy despite hardship can sometimes make the pain a little more bearable and the joy even more sustaining when the struggle ends. It should come as no surprise then that knowing the difference between happiness and joy can have benefits for your mental health.  Many people seeking and not finding happiness often conclude that something must then be wrong with their life, their marriage, their job, etc. and they become disillusioned, sad or even depressed.  

There is a condition called Smiling depression, which is depression hidden behind a happy or contented facial expression or mask. This is especially common among people with a long history of depression, they often mask their pain because they don’t want to burden or worry their loved ones, to prevent people from asking questions, or often it’s just easier.  

Cultivating more joy in your life will not prevent pain or grief but according to the Dalai Lama “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional” Joy then, is a conscious choice to respond to our circumstances with as positive an outlook as possible. We cannot always control or change our circumstances, but we can control how we respond to them. 

Part of the mission of the Greater Austin YMCA is to “put programs into practice that build a healthy mind, body & sprit”. I would argue that the result of a healthy mind, body and spirit is joy. Every day we are working to cultivate Health & Wellness programming, educational options for children and memory making experiences for families, to bring joy to the people of Central Texas.  

So, during this Mental Health Awareness month, choose JOY! 

Kristen Pierce Vreeke, LMFT-S, is the creator of Everline Counseling, the Greater Austin YMCA’s initiative to make mental health more affordable and accessible.

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