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The Search for Happiness Vs. the Discovery of Joy

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By Grant Stenzel MS Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

The Declaration of Independence gives three examples of unalienable rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This phrasing shows amazing insight. It says we have the right to “seek” happiness, not to “possess” it. Our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to know that happiness is always fleeting.

A Temporary High

People often say to me, “I just want to be happy.” But is that what they really mean?

How do people find happiness today? The next weekend, the next party, the next vacation, a new house and so on. Happiness is circumstantial. A comedian once said, “Money can’t buy happiness, but I’ve never seen a sad person on a jet ski.” Like most jokes, it is funny because it has a ring of truth to it. But what happens when the jet ski runs out of gas? You can’t stay out on the lake forever.

It’s hard to escape. We are constantly bombarded by promises of happiness. Commercials tell us that this beer will make you happy, this car will make you happy, this hamburger will make you happy. Maybe. For a while. And then it’s on to the next thing.

So, if happiness is fleeting and ultimately never satisfying, what is it people are looking for? The answer is joy.

Joy is Existential 

What is the difference between happiness and joy? Happiness most often comes from things or events or situations. Joy comes from within you and your belief system. You can only have happiness in good circumstances. Believe it or not, you can have joy no matter what is going on in your life – good or bad. It’s all a matter of perspective. Joy is a choice.

Joy is an overall feeling of well being, peace and contentment. It is an underlying belief that you are on the right path and exactly where you should be in life. Does this mean everything is wonderful? Not necessarily. We can have joy during hard times because we know they’re going to make us stronger, or that something better is going to come out of it.

Choosing Joy

Once you understand the difference, how do you turn your pursuit of happiness into the development of joy? How do you go about discovering the peace and contentment that is within you? This is a good time to think about what life really means to you. Put aside material trappings for a moment. They can actually be a distraction at this point. What is the underlying bedrock of your world? What fulfills you on a day to day basis? Is it your spouse, your children, extended family, close friends, faith? Many people find that loving God and others is very fulfilling. Serving others is also a great mood booster and an excellent way to develop the proper perspective. Let yourself relax and allow the joy in spirituality, service and friendships come to the surface.

Explore your feelings and find the proper answers for you. The great thing about joy is that you don’t have to pursue it. We all have the capacity for joy already within us. It just takes a little effort to tap into it and let it flow. If you need guidance to help find yours, the counselors at Stenzel would be happy to talk with you. Reach out today.

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