The Pursuit of Joy
Happiness versus Joy
Happiness seems to be something pursued by most everyone in American culture. From the outside, it may seem like a lot of individuals in your community have found “happiness” and it may feel discouraging that you would not define your life as happy. The thing about happiness
is that it’s not a constant and it’s widely based on external circumstances. According to Brené Brown (2010), happiness is “a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances.”
Circumstances change and, therefore, the feeling of happiness comes and goes as well.
However, the good news is that there’s another emotion that, if practiced, can become more
consistent despite circumstances. This emotion is joy. Brené Brown (2010) defines joy as “a
spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”
Since joy is connected to practice, there are things we can do to foster more joy in our lives and
to train our brains to experience more joy. One of these things is practicing gratitude. Gratitude
is simply appreciation or thankfulness. This gratitude can be for something small like how good
our coffee tasted this morning, or something life changing like a miraculous answer to prayer.
Gratitude can be practiced in many different ways. Some individuals write a few things they are
grateful for in a journal each night. Others pray prayers of thanks to God throughout their day
as they notice things, people, or situations they are grateful for. The beauty of this practice is
that you get to choose how it fits best into your life – the goal is to simply become more aware
of the good and the beauty in our day to day lives. At the end of the blog I have listed a few
resources that can be helpful on your journey towards fostering joy. One of these is an inspiring
book called “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. This book details the author’s journey of
living a life of gratitude in every situation and season. If you’re struggling to find gratitude in
your day, I’d encourage you to read this book.
Another practice that is beneficial to living a joy-filled life is practicing present mindfulness.
This practice is again related to awareness, specifically the awareness of what we are currently
experiencing. A helpful tool to practice present mindfulness is to take a few moments to notice
your five senses.
Sight: Look around and see the details in a few things around you.
Touch: Take a moment to notice what it feels like where you are sitting or standing. Do you feel
warm or cold? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? Notice your breath as it comes in and
out of your lungs.
Hearing: First bring your attention to the sounds furthest away. Then slowly bring your
attention to the sounds in the room you are in.
Smell: Notice any scents that you can smell, both pleasant and unpleasant.
Taste: Pay attention to the taste in your mouth or take a bite of something while savoring the
This practice will re-orient you to the present, allowing you to fully engage with those around
you and experience the moment you are in for all that it has to offer. When practicing present-
mindfulness, it’s also important to take some additional time daily to connect with and process your emotions. In practicing this, we are better able to fully experience and become aware of
our emotions, both the hard emotions and the happy emotions. If we numb or push down hard
and negative emotions, we often numb the good emotions (including joy) as well.
In Brené Brown’s (2010) definition of joy, she notes that it is a “spiritual way of engaging with
the world.” As a Christ follower, I believe that there is an unexplainable joy that comes from the
Holy Spirit and from being in relationship with the Father. Psalm 16:11 (ESV) says, “In Your
presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasure evermore.” For Christians, the
presence of God is a constant in your life. Bringing our awareness to His constant presence is
another way of fostering an unwavering joy.
Barriers to Joy
There are quite a few barriers to joy. As you can assume from the list of joy-producing practices
above, joy can be squelched by a negative attitude and heart and from being disconnect from
present experiences. One other barrier that I think is important to mention is comparison.
Theodore Roosevelt famously said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” In an age where social
media highlights what people want to show us from their lives, this quote couldn’t be more
true. It’s hard to practice gratitude when we are wishing our life was like someone else’s. If you
struggle with comparison on social media, I want to challenge you to take a social media
cleanse. Pick an amount of days to not sign into Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and whatever
other social media you frequent. Reconnect with the present and with the things in your life
you’re grateful for.
I want to encourage you that it is possible to foster more joy in your life and for this to become
a more consistent emotion despite your circumstances. If you need help reaching your goals in
this area or in any other area related to your emotions, please contact us at SureHope
Counseling. We’d love to get you connected with a therapist or life coach to help you on your
One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp
The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown
Brown, B., Ph.D., L.M.S.W. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're
Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.