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Joy and Happiness: Are They One and the Same?

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Most people readily state that happiness is a destination they are trying to reach. Although life is full of re-routes, twist and turns we try setting our internal navigations toward the people, things or places the that invoke emotions that leave us feeling peaceful and content. What does it really mean to live a happy and fulfilled life? Some would define joy and happiness as being synonymous however research has revealed some stark differences between the two. The most apparent difference between the two is that happiness is long-lasting, whereas joy is more of a fleeting feeling.

Our Pursuit of Happiness

Some would argue it is "inherently human" to seek out things that bring us meaning and joy. The quest to find happiness leaves many with the conclusion that happiness must come from with in. The the pursuit of understanding and measuring happiness has motivated researchers to create measures such as the World Happiness Report, the World Happiness Database as well as comparing existing happiness pursuits with different nations. Looking more closely at how researchers define happiness we see it characterized as propensity to experience positive emotions, the capacity to rebound from negative emotions quickly all while maintaining a steady sense of purpose. Interestingly enough, money, power and privilege does not guarantee happiness.

Taking Ownership our Happiness

Although a healthy support system can contribute to healthy and fulfilling experiences, we must all take full accountability for our individual happiness. Allowing others to become the key stakeholders of our happiness can inevitably end in disappointment. Codependency can be an onset symptom of giving others ownership of happiness. It can perpetuate a cycle the disempowers autonomy and growth. Healthy relationships dynamics include routinely prioritizing our individual wants and needs as well practicing self-care. Healthy independence is a key element of Happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, author of “The How of Happiness” states research has showed that lack of autonomy leads to greater stress and even poor health. Relationships can bring us fun, laughter and joy, however if happiness is what we are in search of we must look no further than within.

If Happiness is the Destination How Do I Get There?

“The road to happiness is paved with good deeds for others.” - Lisa Schroeder, Author

Life is a journey. Giving to others while giving to ourselves promotes a healthy balance. Taking care of yourself, doing things that make you feel good, and broadening your experiences can all lead to a happy and healthy lifestyle. Staying true to your goals, values and adhering to personal boundaries can help you establish and secure good support systems while maintaining a sense of purpose with in the world. Relationships require work such as compromise, communication, and commitment and it is equally important that we invest in the relationship with have with ourselves just as we invest in our relationships with others.

Road Map to Happiness

Minnesota Twin Family Study researchers David Lykken and Auke Tellegen conducted a research study that suggests some extent of happiness can be linked to our genetics. This supports the notion that genetic factors may contribute to some individuals being predisposed to a higher baseline of happiness, however, that does not mean happiness to solely based on hereditary. Regardless of our genetics there are practices we can incorporate in our daily lives that have been proved to help generate happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book "The How of Happiness" describes 12 Actives that have been proven to enhance happiness. According to Lyubomirsky’s research, Happiness enhancing strategies are:

Counting your blessings: Expressing gratitude for what we have and conveying our appreciation to one or more individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked. It's noted that we can engage in these practices privately or with others. A gratitude journal can also be a great tool to incorporate gratitude in our our daily practices.

Cultivating optimism: Setting aside time to organize our thoughts and journaling about our future selves you can be beneficial in helping us to be hopeful about the future. It can also help us gain introspection and practice to looking at the positive aspects of our situations.

Avoiding overthinking and social comparison: Using strategies such as thought stopping, challenging negative thoughts and distraction to can help us to cut down on how often we dwell on our problems and compare yourself to others.

Practicing acts of kindness: Doing nice things for others boosts our serotonin levels and helps to give us feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Supporting and doing spontaneous or planned kind things for our friends, family members or strangers directly or indirectly can help us to us to experience happiness.

Nurturing relationships: Identifying the relationships you want to strengthen and devoting your time and energy in strengthening the bonds with people close to you as well building relationships new relationships. Consider calling your friends and love ones during your commute; texting memories you've shared in the past; and following up with those who often struggle with challenges.

Doing more activities that truly engage you: Finding opportunities at

home and work that keep you positively engaged and challenged.

Replaying and savoring life’s joys: Setting aside time to take delight, and reflect over

life’s momentary pleasures and wonders. This can be done through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another. Mindfulness is another practice that can be helpful in allowing you to be more present in your daily routines.

Committing to your goals: Taking time to envision your future self and picking a few significant goals that are meaningful to you and investing your time and energy in to pursuing them.

Developing strategies for coping: Practicing healthy techniques and daily patterns identify and process stress, hardship, or trauma.

Learning to forgive: Journaling or writing a letter allows you work through any anger, pain, or resentment others have caused you. Keep in mind, forgiveness doesn't mean you forget or excuse the harm that has been done to you. It also does not mean you must make up up with the person that caused you harm. The purpose of forgiveness is to help you develop peace so that you can go on with your life.

Practicing religion and spirituality: Spirituality can help use better understand our life purpose and well as giving us an outlet to make sense our challenges that are beyond our control. Practicing mediation; reading spiritually-themed books; and becoming more involved at a church, temple, or mosque can help us to develop healthy tools and patterns to process life's daily challenges.

Taking care of your body: Being mindful of our food choices and engaging in daily physical activity can play a key role in helping us to feel good and goal oriented.


There is a great deal of truth in the statement "happiness comes from within." Turning to other's to provide us with support and guidance at times can be a helpful practice, however if we are in search of lasting contentment, fulfillment and happiness we need to look no further than ourselves. Spending time without ourselves and assessing our needs and wants can help us to create an inventory of what brings us happiness and joy. Managing and monitor our mental health can help us to gain perspective and balance when life's stressors leave us feeling overwhelmed and distressed. Speaking with a Therapist can help you to develop goals and strategies that can help to achieve long term happiness and experience more joy.

Achieving happiness can take some time, however, if you're reading this I commend you on taking a step toward that goal and challenge you to continue exploring ways to achieve happiness and joyful experiences. Happiness and joy work together to provide a sense of wellbeing, although the two are not one and the same they work hand in hand in helping us to lead lives that are meaningful and fulfilling.

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