Have You Found the Secrets to Living a Life of Joy? What is Joy Anyway?

Recently a group of my friends and I discussed the book co-written by the Dali Llama and Bishop Desmond Tutu entitled The Book of Joy. We found it rich with principles of joy and some of the secrets to discovering it in life. Through reading this book, discussing it with friends and doing some of my own research I have come to realize that finding joy is a journey of discovery, challenges, and fulfillment.

For the next several weeks I will be writing on this subject, which seems an appropriate follow-up to my previous blogs about love. I encourage you as you read each of these blogs to notice your own thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, beliefs and memories. Doing that will enrich your exploration of this important subject.

Let’s begin by looking at some definitions of joy.

According to Merrian-Webster dictionary, joy is defined as, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desiresDELIGHT

Contrast that to what Bishop Tutu says in The Book of Joy: “It’s wonderful to discover that what we want is not actually happiness. It is not actually what I would speak of. I would speak of joy. Joy subsumes happiness. Joy is a far greater thing.”

The authors go on to address the question, what is this thing called joy, and how is it possible to write a book on such a wide range of feelings? “How can the experience of joy span from those tears of joy at a birth to an irrepressible belly laugh at a joke to a serenely contented smile during meditation? Joy seems to blanket this entire emotional experience.”

Paul Ekman, famed emotions researcher and longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, stated that, “Joy is associated with feelings as varied as: (this is just a partial list of what is contained in the book): pleasure, amusement, contentment, excitement, relief, wonder, ecstasy or bliss, gratitude.” Buddhist scholar and former scientist Matthieu Ricard also provided three other more exalted states of joy: “rejoicing in someone else’s happiness, delight or enchantment, spiritual radiance (a serene joy born from deep well-being and benevolence).”

In a 2020 article from Psychology Today, Dr. Pamela King discussed “What is Joy and What Does It Say About Us?” In the article she says, ”I have observed that many people have an enduring and underlying sense of something that is deeper than the emotion of happiness, and I have come to describe this as joy. In my study of joy, I have also noticed that joy is more complex than a feeling or an emotion. It is something one can practice, cultivate, or make a habit. Consequently, I suggest that joy is most fully understood as a virtue that involves our thoughts, feelings, and actions in response to what matters most in our lives. Thus, joy is an enduring, deep delight in what holds the most significance.”

She goes on to say, “A helpful way of thinking about joy is understanding what matters most in human life. Reviewing philosophical, theological, and psychological approaches, I identified three areas that deeply inform joy. They are:

  • growing in authenticity and living more into one’s strengths
  • growing in depth of relationships and contributing to others
  • living more aligned with one’s ethical and spiritual ideals.

I hypothesize that the more one is able to live a strength-based life, reciprocate relationships with others, and live with moral coherency, the more joy one will experience in life. This suggests that joy is not just an individual pursuit, but one that deeply involves our connections with others.”

I hope you can see why the subject is so important for us to explore and to gain some of the principles that allow us to experience greater joy in our lives. I encourage you to do some of your own research as we explore this topic together.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, beliefs and memories popped up for you as you read this? How can you use any of these to enhance your understanding of the nature of joy?
  2. Can you think of times you have experienced joy as defined by the experts cited in this blog?
  3. How might processing the many dynamics of joy be valuable to you?
  4. Are there specific people in your life that come to mind when you read this information? Are there things you wish they knew about joy?