Happiness vs. Joy

Love him (brilliant in Dallas Buyers Club) or hate him (questionable in Failure to Launch), Matthew McConaughey has some serious spiritual wisdom. If you haven’t listened to his speech on YouTube – This is Why You’re Not Happy – go do that now and then come back here, read the rest of my thoughts, and then share yours!

One of my favorite things that he talks about is the difference between happiness and joy – exactly the same way I define them. Happiness is a fleeting emotion. It’s an emotional response to an expected/desired/preferred outcome. And when the outcome you want doesn’t happen, then you will be unhappy. And let me let you in on a little secret – reality very rarely matches your expectations, so you’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of unhappiness! Joy, on the other hand, as Matthew puts it, is not a choice. Joy is not a response to a result. Joy is a constant.

Exactly. Joy is an internal, unconditional, state of being. It’s goes much deeper than happiness. Happiness is external, conditional, and temporary. You get your hit of happiness and then you’re good for a little while and then before you know it you’re back looking for your next fix – a new car, a different relationship, a slice (or 4) of pizza, a custom watch, a new hair style… The list goes on and on. Everyone has a happiness drug of choice. But when you stop and think about it, those things aren’t going to give you lasting happiness (i.e. joy) which is what you are really after.

So, how do you get there? It’s a purposeful practice, a daily pursuit, and a constant commitment to cultivating joy in your life and in the lives of those around you.

The 8 Pillars of Joy, from The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, offers practical tips for how to create and cultivate joy:

  1. PERSPECTIVE – Take a step back and try to see the situation from another angle, another perspective. See it how someone else might see it. This opens you up to empathy and empathy is one of the most critical components of joy.
  2. HUMILITY – They don’t say ego is the enemy for nothing. When you think of yourself as better than someone else it’s creates a disconnect from those around you. Like empathy and perspective, humility connects you to your fellow humans. It makes it easier to open up to others and to be your true self.
  3. HUMOR – Studies show that humor is linked to all kinds of positive side effects like relaxing the body and supporting the immune system. Finding common ground is often done through humor and being able to laugh at yourself. In short, humor connects us to other people. Are you noticing a theme here?
  4. ACCEPTANCE – Do not confuse this with resignation, mediocrity, or defeat. Think of acceptance as the ability to see life and the situation at hand in all it’s purity – it’s truth and being able to tell yourself the truth about your life. Once you can do that, the world actually unfolds for you because you are living in the moment and not in the past or future, but right here and now, no matter what is happening.
  5. FORGIVENESS – If you are unable to forgive, then you will forever be living in the past and holding onto past hurt, pain and resentment of other people (or the past version of yourself). It does not mean that you forget. It means you accept it, and let go, so that you can move forward and live in joy.
  6. GRATITUDE – Once you have accepted where you are, gratitude allows you to embrace it all. Gratitude encourages you to focus on the positive and a regular gratitude practice primes your mind to look for the good, the lessons, and the joy, no matter what hand you are dealt. Gratitude connects you to those around you because it reminds you of everyone who has helped you along the way, taught you something, or impacted your life. You can’t be grateful and angry at the same time. Try it!
  7. COMPASSION – Compassion is about recognizing our shared humanity and having true concern for the suffering of others. It is understanding that everyone is simply trying to do the best they can with the information/knowledge/situation/level of consciousness they are at at any given moment in time. This means having compassion for yourself as well.
  8. GENEROSITY – The secret to living is giving. Giving to others does not take away from you – in fact, it just adds to your joy! I believe we are simply spiritual beings having a temporary physical experience – and if that is true, then I just need to be a good steward of any wealth, material possessions, or power that I acquire while I’m here.

Happiness is all about you. Joy truly comes from connecting with others. After all, we’re social creatures, so it make sense. Remember, joy is state of being you can cultivate with time, patience, and practice, and believe me, it is well worth it! But don’t take my word for it. Start your practice today with those 8 pillars above. Let go of happiness and unleash joy!


  1. Michael Mergell

    Joy is a constant as its connected to your heart and soul. Happiness is fleeting. Eliminate what you are not and be the best version of you that you can be. Enjoy the good with the bad and learn and grow from both. The word ENJOY itself is the state of Joy.

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