Distinguishing the Two
If you’ve already read about our First Type of Happiness: Ephemeral Pleasures, you’re probably noticing similarities here. ‘Happiness’ is what we feel with that type. We can spin the wheel with our experience of objects (buying things, playing with things, etc), with entertainment (Movies, ‘fun’ activities like video games, etc.), or with sensory pleasures (food, drinks, pleasant smells, unattached sex, etc.).
True joy comes from Meaning and Purpose. The the main point here is that happiness is dissociated from our sense of self…sort of external. It happens to us. Joy, however, happens by us.
When you reflect on your life and invoke a sense of meaning, you feel joy.
Evaluative vs. Experiential Well-Being
We experience things in one way and evaluate them in a different way all the time. Ever wonder how you friend or loved one can keep saying “I love my job” when they seem miserable day in and day out. Can you think of an adventure, maybe a camping trip, that went wrong and made you miserable when it was happening, but you now look back upon fondly?
Five Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful One
an article from the Greater Good Science Center, Berkeley
- Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but that seems largely irrelevant to a meaningful life.
Therefore, health, wealth, and ease in life were all related to happiness, but not meaning.
- Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more
about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. In addition, happiness was
seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seemed to last longer.
- Meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you.
Although social connections were linked to both happiness and meaning, happiness was connected more
to the benefits one receives from social relationships, especially friendships, while meaningfulness was
related to what one gives to others—for example, taking care of children. Along these lines, self-described
“takers” were happier than self-described “givers,” and spending time with friends was linked to
happiness more than meaning, whereas spending more time with loved ones was linked to meaning but
- Meaningful lives involve stress and challenges. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to
higher meaningfulness but lower happiness, which suggests that engaging in challenging or difficult
situations that are beyond oneself or one’s pleasures promotes meaningfulness but not happiness.
- Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring
about personal and cultural identity were linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one. For example,
considering oneself to be wise or creative was associated with meaning but not happiness.
- Happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
A Helpful Visual
Joy and Happiness are of a different nature, as we’ve seen.
And, they certainly interact. A “happy” life (in the colloquial sense) is a life lived in a blissful intersection of Happiness and Joy.
Thinking of these two separate circles, we can dissociate some individual characteristics found in each, as well as examples. Look at the activities and traits that represent “Joy”, and consider separately the examples of “Happiness.” They sort of feel different, don’t they?
However, we can move these circles closer together. Where they intersect, something becomes obvious: there are things that we enjoy that contain elements of both ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’. Time with friends, reading an insightful book, or singing along with the radio….while these activities can be fleeting instances of pleasure, they may also contain traces of, say, discovery or expression. Therefore, they can also carry a sense of meaning.
As the circles move even closer together, we can see more examples. Life offers an endless list of things to do that offer both happiness and joy. It may be a delight to put on your favorite music, and begin making a gift for a friend. What gives back, deeply, from such an activity is the sense of purpose that comes with expressing yourself with a gift and sharing love with a friend.
Throughout any day, week, or year, our place within these circles and the circles themselves ebb and flow. Sliding together and apart, we may drink a tasty drink and find pleasure with no meaning. We likewise may stay up all night with a sick child, creating joy/meaning but finding no happiness. The position of the circles above exemplifies a very happy and joyous life. This is a mightily inspirational position to seek for an average of where our circles sit: full of activities that carry both purpose and pleasure.
And here it is…a blissful state of synonymy among happiness and joy.
A sort of life in which the mastery of a skill is pursued, deep interpersonal connection is thriving, etc…it is what we strive for. When these circles meet, pleasure and purpose are tightly interwoven into our activities, going hand-in-hand as we make our way through time.