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Joy and Happiness

Posted by Karen Sergent in Heatlh & Well-being on December 19, 2022

I Second That Emotion

While joy and happiness overlap in some ways, they are distinct emotions that can differ in depth, duration, and sources.

While defining emotions is a task that is not yet completeresearch suggests that emotion is a complex psychological and physiological response to a stimulus that involves thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Emotions are a natural and vital part of human experience and play a significant role in shaping our thoughts, behaviors, and actions.

Physiological arousals, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and other bodily responses, often accompany emotions. They are also accompanied by cognitive and behavioral responses, such as thoughts and actions related to the emotion.

Emotions are a normal and necessary part of the human experience. They serve essential functions in helping us navigate and respond to the world around us. Emotions can be positive or negative, ranging from intense to subtle. Some common emotions include happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love, and joy.

Today we are focussing on joy and happiness.

Joy and Happiness are two emotions that overlap in some ways – distinctly different in depth, duration, and sources.

Depth, Duration, and Source

In terms of depth, joy is often described as a deeper, more profound emotion than happiness. Joy is often associated with inner peace and contentment beyond temporary pleasure or the satisfaction of material desires. On the other hand, happiness is more often associated with a surface-level feeling of pleasure or enjoyment.

In terms of duration, joy is generally considered a more enduring emotion than happiness. Joy is often described as a constant, underlying sense of well-being that is not easily shaken by external circumstances. At the same time, happiness tends to be more fleeting and dependent on external events.

Regarding sources, joy is often seen as coming from within, while happiness is more often associated with external sources such as material possessions or pleasurable experiences. Joy is often described as a fruit of the Holy Spirit and a natural byproduct of a life of faith. Happiness is often tied to external circumstances and may be more prone to fluctuations.

Happiness doesn’t bring joy, and joy isn’t the byproduct of happiness.


“The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid..”

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Ryer

representation of an experience of happiness

We Discover and Experience Joy In Various Ways

In an interview with Psychology Today, Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King – whose primary academic interests focus on the intersection of human thriving, moral, and spiritual development – suggests that the more we can live a strength-based life, reciprocate relationships with others, and live with moral coherency, the more joy we will experience in life. She further suggests that joy is not just an individual pursuit but profoundly involves our connections with others.

“We can discover and experience joy in various ways—doing those things we love to do, growing in intimacy or providing for others, and clarifying and coherently pursuing our values,” says King. She suggests we experience the most joy when these domains of the self, others, and values overlap.

A Strengths-Based Life

How might a strengths-based life help contribute to increased joy and well-being?

A strengths-based life is a way of living in which we focus on and build upon our strengths and positive qualities rather than trying to fix our weaknesses or negative traits. A strengths-based approach aims to help us identify and develop our unique abilities and use them to achieve our goals and live fulfilling lives. This approach is based on the idea that everyone has strengths and that it is more effective to focus on and build upon them rather than trying to fix or eliminate weaknesses.

Living a strengths-based life can bring about joy in several ways. Here are a few possible ways that focusing on and building upon our strengths can lead to increased joy:

  1. Improved self-esteem: When we focus on our strengths and positive qualities, we may feel more confident and capable, leading to increased self-esteem.
  2. Increased sense of purpose and meaning: When we can use our strengths and abilities to achieve our goals and positively impact the world, we may experience a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
  3. Greater satisfaction and fulfillment: When we can use our strengths to do what we enjoy and are good at, we may experience greater satisfaction and fulfillment in our daily life.
  4. Improved relationships: When we can focus on our strengths and positive qualities, we may be more likely to form positive and fulfilling relationships with others.

Reciprocating Relationships

How might reciprocating relationships help contribute to increased joy and well-being?

Reciprocating relationships with others means building and maintaining positive relationships with others where there is mutual support, understanding, and care. These relationships can help us feel more connected, supported, and fulfilled, contributing to increased joy and well-being.

Reciprocating relationships with others can bring about joy in several ways. Here are a few possible ways that building and maintaining positive relationships with others can lead to increased joy:

  1. Social support: We may feel more connected, cared for, and understood.
  2. Sense of belonging: We may feel a sense of belonging and connection to a community.
  3. Shared experiences and activities: We may have the opportunity to participate in shared activities and experiences.
  4. Personal growth: We may have the chance to learn and grow from these relationships.

Moral Coherency

How might moral coherency help contribute to increased joy and well-being?

Moral coherency is trying to be a good person and do what you believe is right, even when it might be challenging or not always convenient. It refers to consistently acting according to our values and beliefs about right and wrong.

Here are a few possible ways that consistently heeding one’s values and beliefs can lead to increased joy:

  1. Sense of purpose and meaning: We may feel a sense of purpose and meaning in our actions.
  2. Improved self-esteem: We may feel more confident and proud of ourselves.
  3. Greater satisfaction: We may feel more satisfied and fulfilled with our actions.
  4. Improved relationships: We may be more likely to form positive and fulfilling relationships with others, as others may be more attracted to and respect individuals who are consistent in their actions.

Living with moral coherency – or consistently acting according to one’s values and beliefs – can help individuals feel more purposeful, confident, satisfied, and connected to others, contributing to increased joy and well-being.


“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Brené Brown

Joy Requires Vulnerability

Author Dr. Brené Brown –who’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy – has found that vulnerability is not a weakness. Instead, it can be our greatest strength.

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience,” Brown says. “And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.” During her research, Brown says she met people with a profound capacity for joy. The difference, she says, is that when something really blissful happened to them, they felt grateful. “Instead of using it as a warning to start practicing disaster, they used it as a reminder to practice gratitude,” Brown says.

To tolerate joy means handling or enduring joy without becoming overwhelmed or distressed. It can involve being able to experience joy and positive emotions without feeling the need to resist or push them away. Tolerating joy is essential for mental health and well-being, allowing us to fully experience and embrace positive emotions rather than avoiding or rejecting them.

It can be constructive for those who have difficulty experiencing or expressing positive emotions or who tend to minimize or dismiss our joy and well-being.

Developing mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-awareness skills can help us become more attuned and accepting of positive emotions when they arise. It can also involve seeking support and guidance from a mental health professional, trusted friend, or family member.


In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Harvard Health Publishing,
“Giving thanks can make you happier” (08-14-2021)

Gratitude and Happiness Are Inseparable

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation or thankfulness for something or someone. Research has consistently shown that practicing gratitude can positively impact happiness and well-being. People who regularly practiced gratitude experienced increased positive emotions and greater satisfaction and were likelier to feel connected to others. Further, it is related to increased well-being and reduced negative emotions. The research suggests that gratitude can help individuals focus on the positive aspects of their lives and the things they are thankful for rather than dwelling on negative thoughts or experiences.

This shift in focus can contribute to increased feelings of happiness and well-being.

In Summary

Happiness doesn’t bring joy.

Joy isn’t the byproduct of happiness.

Happiness requires gratitude.

Joy requires vulnerability.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Karen Chenoa Sergent

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