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Embrace joy rather than happiness for better mental health

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 26, 2023 5:00 am

The third candle of Advent is that of Joy. We often hear priests talk about the difference between joy and happiness. They always point out that Joy is superior and a blessing we should pray for.

In the homily of Fr. Jordan Orbe, S.J., a trained clinical psychologist/psychotherapist, he said that joy is “founded in the unshakeable fidelity of God” and the “deep-seated assurance that God is in control.” 

Fr. Orbe said that this inner joy is more than just a feeling. It is powerful and contagious. It is a gentle and quiet joy that allows us to embrace the unexpected.

Close to nature, close to God: Sunflowers grow in the wilderness. They are beautiful even if there is really no other caretaker except Mother Nature. If the nature around us is beautiful and taken care of by our Father, how could He not care about us who He has adopted as His children?

He warned that “expectation is the mother of frustration and resentment.” He also mentioned that he heard from someone before that ego stands for “edging God out.” There is no joy unless you allow God to be the center of your life.

Fr. Orbe ended his Simbang Gabi homily by saying that we should pray for authentic interior joy so that we can be a beacon of joy amid this life of darkness and pain.

Joy and mental health 

Why should the difference between joy and happiness concern us? Aren’t they the same? Aren’t they interchangeable? Aside from the religious, psychologists and psychiatrists agree that we should know the difference so we may know what will give us stability in terms of mental health.

In this day and age of social media, authenticity is a rare commodity. The “perfect” lives portrayed on Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, etc. are all “for show.” Whatever is posted is what people want their public image to be, not necessarily who they are. The seeming happiness of others creates pressure on others to keep up. It is an endless chase for happiness.

At the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold: In the Bible, the rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise,
which makes us hopeful. There can be no joy without faith and hope.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, happiness is the mental or emotional state of positive/pleasant feelings, while joy is the experience “evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” While very similar, joy is the state or condition of one’s life, as opposed to happiness, which is fleeting and dependent on varying situations.

Can there be joy even when the present situation evokes sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, despair? Experts say yes, joy can still be present. If you choose to still be grateful and hopeful, if you choose to feel good despite the situation, then there can be joy.

Unlike happiness, joy is not fleeting or temporary. It is a lasting and enduring emotion that can sustain a person even in the face of adversity or difficult circumstances.

Happiness is typically described as a state of well-being and contentment. It is often associated with external factors such as success, wealth, or good health. Happiness is a transient emotion that can be influenced by external circumstances and can vary from person to person.

For example, one person may find happiness in material possessions, while another may find happiness in personal relationships or fulfilling work. Happiness is often pursued as a goal, and people strive to achieve it by seeking out pleasurable experiences or acquiring material possessions.

One of the candles of Advent is Joy. We need to choose joy. We need to be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”

On the other hand, joy is a more profound emotion. It is often described as an intense feeling of delight or exultation that is independent of external circumstances. Joy is not dependent on success, wealth, or material possessions. Instead, it is an inner state of being that is cultivated through gratitude, acceptance, and a sense of connection to something greater than oneself. Joy is often associated with spiritual or religious experiences, as well as acts of kindness, love, and compassion.

Unlike happiness, joy is not fleeting or temporary. It is a lasting and enduring emotion that can sustain a person even in the face of adversity or difficult circumstances. Joy is not dependent on external factors, but rather on one’s mindset and attitude towards life. It is a state of being that can be cultivated and nurtured through practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and self-reflection.

While happiness is often pursued as a goal, joy is more of a byproduct of living a meaningful and fulfilling life. It is not something that can be obtained through external achievements or material possessions, but rather through inner transformation and self-discovery. Joy is not dependent on external circumstances, but rather on one’s ability to find beauty, meaning, and purpose in everyday life.

In our modern society, there is often an emphasis on the pursuit of happiness through external achievements or material possessions. However, this pursuit can often lead to a sense of emptiness or dissatisfaction, as happiness is a transient emotion that is dependent on external circumstances.

Joy, on the other hand, offers a deeper and more meaningful sense of fulfillment and contentment primarily because it has rightfully given control to a Supreme Being who loves us unconditionally.

Merry Christ-mas!