There's a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness tends to be a fleeting emotion triggered by something external: a promotion, a surprise gift, an Auburn victory, all green lights when you're late to work. Joy, however, is a state of being that exists even in the presence of worry, stress and conflict. It's a condition of your heart that allows you to find peace and gratitude in the hardest of times.
In my life, I've experienced so many happy times. Moments of elation that bubble to the surface because of what's happening around me. When I got my driver's license, when I graduated from Emory, when I met my husband, at my daughter's first birthday party, when my puppy greets me when I walk in the door. Happiness feels like little bursts of laughter in your heart. It's wonderful but fleeting in the next moment.
Joy is what sustains us. Yet, it's the most difficult to cultivate and hold on to. Joy requires being in an abyss and finding the flicker of light. It requires closing your eyes not to shut out the world and what's happening but to instead force you to look inward for strength.
How do you cultivate joy? It's not easy because you can only cultivate joy by understanding pain. It's like love and hate. Two extremes that require you to experience one to have the other. It's riding the waves of life that push you down under the engulfing tide, requiring you to hold your breath and fight for the surface, so that when you reach it the breath of air that fills your lungs is the finest breath you've ever taken.
Unfortunately, joy can get buried sometimes. It exists deep within us having been built over time from our experiences. But sometimes life is relentless and throws brick after brick, situation after situation, moment after moment to the point that we throw up our arms for protection. Pull into ourselves in an attempt to deflect the bullets. And our joy gets covered in the rubble of our circumstances. There but covered in so much pain, guilt, shame, anger and hopelessness that it's quieted.
But if we close our eyes, take a deep breath, and look inward. Focus on the flickers of light that brought us to the surface before, we can push ourselves out of the rubble and back into that place where we can breathe. That's joy.