One of the core experiences we all seek is delight, and one of the most common words we use for this experience is happiness. We all want to be happy, and we seek it in countless ways. But there is another word that we use in a similar way—joy. These two words—happiness and joy—actually have somewhat different meanings. We will use these differences to describe two different approaches to this experience of delight and wellbeing that we all seek.
Happiness, as used here, is based primarily on circumstances. When we perceive the circumstances in our lives as favorable, then we are more likely to be happy. For instance, if we have what we consider the right job, the right home, and the right friends, then we’re happy in those areas of our life. Of course, there’s the really big one—having the right special someone to share our life with. If we have that, then we’re really happy. There are countless things, big and small, that we use to try and make ourselves happy. The list is essentially endless.
What all these things have in common is that they are all external, all circumstantial, and all transitory. However, this does not make these things or their pursuit bad in any way. Fulfilling work, enjoyable living space, and fulfilling relationships are wonderful. They are true blessings and deserve gratitude. But external things are often hard to control, circumstances inevitably change over time, and transitory things come to an end sooner or later. Therefore, the happiness that comes from these things is bound to change as well.
If happiness is derived mainly from outer things, then joy is found in the opposite direction. Joy originates from within. Whereas happiness might be considered a state of circumstances, joy is a state of being.
True joy comes from the very nature of who we are. The world’s wisdom traditions tell us that infinite delight and bliss reside within the very core of reality itself—and therefore within our core as well. Infinite joy is an inherent quality of our own deepest being. Therefore, unlike happiness, this inner joy is not based on anything circumstantial, external, or transitory. It is an abiding, permanent, and inherent quality of who we are in our deepest truth.
As we grow spiritually, we begin to come into greater contact with this inherent joy that resides deep within us. We also begin to shift gears in the way we approach life. Instead of trying to generate delight and wellbeing from outer circumstances, we increasingly let our inner joy flow into our life circumstances. In this way, work, home, relationships, etc. are indeed joyful for us, but not because these things are creating the joy, but because our inner joy is expressing itself in these circumstances.
As our awareness expands, we realize that our particular circumstances don’t matter as much anymore. Instead, our joyful state of being increasingly radiates throughout all circumstances and becomes immune to their constant shifting.
Even though joy is an inherent part of our true nature, as human beings we have covered over much of our true self with false beliefs and conditioning. Practices that help uncover and affirm our essential nature will help allow our inner joy to shine forth. Here are some ways to do this:
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