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Happiness or Joy?

I recently had a brief instagram conversation with one of my "ultra running idols*, Amelia Boone. She indicated some frustration that "everyone claims they just want to be happy", and was encouraging folks to think outside of the fleeting paradigm of happiness.

As a practicing mental health therapist and yoga/mindfulness teacher, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the nature of consciousness and emotions, particularly the "fun" one's like happiness and joy.

One of the distinctions that I (and Amelia) agreed upon about happiness is that it is a fleeting state of being. Often people will come to therapy and tell me, "I just want to be happy (in my life, relationship, etc.)".

This is a great goal! Happiness is awesome! But just like everything else (sadness, fear), it is not permanent. So, although (as therapists) we may be working towards helping folks be "happier" we are *actually* exploring their life/relational system as a whole and identifying ways we can increase the amount of time they spend doing the things that bring joy and alignment with their higher purpose (or, dharma, for all you yogi's out there).

The Book Of Joy (Dali Lama & Desmond Tutu, 2016) suggests that happiness is based on external events, while joy is internal. They also suggest that joy is based on 8 "pillars" (Perspective, Humility, Humor, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion, Generosity).

Perhaps my greatest distinction between happiness and joy is that joy is a practice. Just like rolling out your yoga mat, sitting in meditation, honing those piano skills, or putting in the effort for a couch to 5k, Joy requires ongoing attention to cultivate and maintain. Joy requests you grab hold of at least one of those pillars, while you curiously explore and engage with the world.

This, of course, has sparked further inquiry for my work with couples and individuals...

For couples:

Does happiness resemble "the honeymoon phase" or a relationship, while joy is the enduring love we find through compassionate and lasting partnership? How can we continue to find happiness (romance) and joy (connection, love) when intimate relationships feel strained by life's stressors?


Do you seek happiness? Joy? Both? How do you cultivate joy in your life? What makes you happy? Where do you find joy?

If these questions resonate with you, and you would like to chat about this further, please don't hesitate to reach out for a free phone consultation to see if we might be a good fit.

Yours in Joy and Happiness,


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