Joy vs. Happiness

   “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,  just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my Joy may be in you and that your Joy may be complete. My command is this: “Love each other as I have loved you.”

 John 15:11-12

      Despair being my default-setting, it makes perfect sense that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about Joy–especially so in God’s upside down universe–where the weak are strong, the tiniest seed morphs into the mightiest tree, the first are last and the secrets of the Kingdom are revealed in children. Of course, depressed people should dwell on Joy–and in Joy.  And yet I wonder why I do not experience more Joy. I think a lot about Joy versus happiness. I know that real Joy, the state C. S. Lewis wrote about, is not just a higher form of happiness. It is something altogether different–I get that. Happiness is transient and often depends on circumstances, whereas Joy endures, and yet may not be ever-present.  Anyway, my thinking about this topic falls somewhere between meditating and obsessing. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m one of the most obsessive and so sometimes I do eventually get things figured out to my own satisfaction.

    I recently read something to the effect that Joy was living in the sureness of God’s love and therefore, I suppose, one’s salvation. I wish I could recall where, and who, and quote it exactly, as at the time I thought it was a pretty good definition. However, my mediating about Joy has led me to conclude that this definition is inadequate–as it is all about us as you will see if you read on.  I wonder why my own experience of Joy is so fleeting. It seems like I have a lot more dark and despairing moments than I do Joy, and yet, even in my darkest, least joyful moments I still have no doubts about my salvation. So why am I not more joyful?

    Currently, my personal experience of Joy often seems to involve tears. I don’t cry when I’m merely happy, but it seems I do when I’m experiencing Joy. I think I’m most joyous when I well-up most easily. Yesterday was one of those days when I felt really good and yet really tearful too.  In the era before I was a Jesus-follower my surest experience of Joy had to do with what the noted psychologist Abraham Maslow called “peak experiences.”  In his famous hierarchy of needs, when all of the basic needs were met, one could have peak experiences. Maslow’s peak experiences had to do with a mystical, ineffable feeling of connectedness–I suppose with all mankind, or the eternal, or a Creator. Back then, when I was a pre-Christian, my peak experiences always had to do with my hyperactive mind lending me some insight, or leading me to the right book at the right time–often involving a mission to Walden’s or Dalton’s in the mall.  A lot of what I read back then was New Age mysticism fluff. I was looking for God–fortunately, he was looking for me too. Thinking about Joy and happiness yesterday I flashed on the title from a sappy 1961 movie Cry for Happy. It was about three U.S. Airmen living in a geisha house in Japan–from the sublime to the ridiculous.  

    I’ll relate an incident that was both Joy, a peak experience and a very emotional one for me as well. Several years ago I was having a bite to eat with a friend after a movie. Sitting a few tables away were three young black girls about 19 or 20. They were having an evening out and perhaps had just seen the same movie that we had been to. They were having burgers and ice cream and were talking and eating with enormous pleasure– relishing a meal and socializing satisfies our most basic needs, and I think it is no accident that “communion” with the Lord is much the same scenario–a meal with friends, a love-feast.  I was so struck by their Joy in the moment that I got teary-eyed.  I was sharing a moment with three young ladies who I did not know and would likely never see again. The image of the three of them enjoying the moment pops back into my mind frequently and it will be with me forever

    C. S. Lewis wrote a good deal about Joy. The autobiography of his early life is titled: Surprised By Joy and oddly enough later in life, and a confirmed bachelor, he married a woman named Joy.  From what I have read about Lewis he was basically a happy, even-tempered sort, fairly unfamiliar with depression and despair. I have a collection of his writings which the editor chose to title: The Joyous Christian. The Joy Lewis wrote about is best characterized by the German word “Sehnsucht” –best translated as “longing.”  Lewis defined Joy as, “…an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction.”  I can go along with that.  I think my pursuit of God thru both the written word and personal experience with the Word has been characterized by a “longing” an “unsatisfied desire”–truly something placed in me by the Infinite.  

    Both of my parents were seriously bipolar, and I suppose I have spent 3/4 of my adult life struggling with depression in one form or another: “Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to be with you again” per Simon and Garfunkle’s inspired lyrics. It’s been an uphill slog, but more and more of the time I feel like I’m coasting and maybe I’m living more and more in Joy.

     About 16-months ago I started a page on Facebook called Joy_Together. It was meant to be a forum of positive input: Scriptures, devotionals, music–devoted to the premise that the healing of despair, angst, depression or addictions could be found in life-together in Christ’s Body–in His Church, His Kingdom.  We are all in this together and I think God meant our healing to be a group process.  Jesus calls Lazarus forth but the disciples roll away the stone and unbind him (John 11:38-44), and so we should all have a part in the healing of others.  So why am I not more Joyful?  Why am I not Joy 24/7.  For me, and maybe for all of us, the answer to the Joy problem lies in the passage from John 15 that was the lead-in to this blog. I haven’t done a very good job of making Jesus’ Joy complete. I haven’t done a very good job of spreading His Love and His Joy around. But with the three young ladies in Denny’s I was–I was loving them, and silently praying for them and I was spreading the love around and I was in Joy.


About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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