photo of new year fireworks

The gifts of joy: Radiance and splendor

Welcoming Joy!

After learning about each of the emotions one by one (you can find the list of emotions on my Start Here page), we arrive today at the final emotion in the happiness family: joy!

Joy is different from happiness in that it is deeper and larger somehow. It is closer in its essence to contentment, but instead of coming forth after an achievement (as contentment does), joy seems to come forth during moments of communion with nature, love, and beauty – when you feel as if you’re one with everything.

If you can recall the expansive, radiant, and powerfully calm feelings you have when you’re in your favorite natural setting at the most beautiful time of day, or when you’re with a person or animal you love and trust utterly, you’ll be able to identify joy.

JOY: Affinity & Communion

GIFTS: Expansion ~ Communion ~ Inspiration ~ Splendor ~ Radiance ~ Bliss

WHAT YOUR JOY DOES: Joy arises to help you feel a blissful sense of expansiveness and connection to others, to ideas, or to experiences.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Experience this blissful state, and then find ways to integrate it into a grounded and focused everyday state as well.

THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What brings me deep connection and infinite expansion? How do I integrate this radiant experience?

Be aware: Extreme joy (exhilaration) is a state to approach with care, especially if it cycles with depression or sadness. Repetitive exhilaration or flights of giddy mania may be a sign of emotional dysregulation; if so, please take care of yourself and reach out for help.

Joy is considered the queen of all emotions – the one we’re supposed to stay in at all times, and in all situations. As such, joy is possibly the trickiest and most dangerous of all the happiness-family emotions; not in and of itself, but because of the way we treat it. Joy is almost treated as an orgasmic emotional state – as a peak experience – which means that some people spend a lot of time working toward it as a goal, instead of living consciously and appropriately in relation to it.

If you understand emotions as senses that live inside you, and as specific aspects of your cognition that arise for specific reasons, you’ll begin to ask yourself: “When I’m chasing after an emotion, where exactly am I running to?”

Or what am I running from?

The natural pathway to joy

When joy arises naturally, it often does so after you’ve come to the end of a long and arduous path; for instance, you often have to travel a long way to get to your favorite natural setting, just as you often have to struggle through painful relationships before you find your heart’s true companion.

For this reason, joy and contentment are more connected to each other than to happiness – because both joy and contentment arise in response to honest work and real triumphs, whereas happiness usually arises to give you a quick and rejuvenating intermission from all the work you need to do before you can truly feel contentment or joy.

This special relationship between joy and hard work is not universally understood, because most people are surprised by joy and see it as a magical gift from the cosmos rather than a natural human emotion.

But joy isn’t magical – it’s an emotion, and it has a specific purpose.

Joy’s surprising connection to grief

Joy ebbs and flows reliably not only in response to hard work and contentment, but also to an emotion that may surprise you: Joy often follows or travels alongside grief – which may seem puzzling if you don’t understand the opportunity for communion that lives inside both joy and grief.

These two emotions are deeply interconnected, because if you enter into the beautiful work that awaits you in the deep river of grief, you’ll become one with the continuum of life – one with the births and deaths of all souls. That’s communion, which places you immediately into the territory of joy – both while you’re in the river performing your sacred grief work, and after you come up and out of the water to rejoin everyday life again.

Whole people understand that joy is not a goal in and of itself, but that joy arises of its own accord in a life that’s resourced with honest hardships, triumphs, ordeals, loss, hard work, love, laughter, grief, and wholeness.

The new Language of Emotions book coverThe healing practice for joy

In The Language of Emotions, I share my five Empathic Mindfulness practices, and one of them (Rejuvenation) actually uses joy as a healing and rejuvenating tool. I want people to get used to joy, so that they can interact with it calmly instead of chasing it all over the place and losing their grounding and their focus.

Your grounding and integrating task when joy arises is to connect the seemingly otherworldly sensations in joy to the very worldly and full-bodied work you do to bring your joy forward.

When you can approach your joy as an emotion, and not as a reward, you’ll be able to celebrate, integrate, and then release your joy naturally. Then, you can get back to your real work, which will lead you naturally and inevitably – again and again – back to your real joy.

Thank you for making a safe and healthy home for your joy.

Related Post: A troubling facet of joy: Exhilaration


4 Responses

  1. Randall
    | Reply

    Karla, would it be accurate to say that contentment is an emotion that has a sort of inner aspect, with a backward glance from the present; that happiness has a larger inner aspect, with a vision of the future; and that joy is more expansive, with a larger outer aspect, maybe with a larger sense of the present, as well as the past and future?

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hello Randall, yes, I feel contentment as an inward-facing emotion, though some people use the word “content” to describe feeling happy in their surroundings or with their external situations. I also agree with joy’s outer, expansive aspect.

      As for happiness, I use the word to denote a kind of outward focus. Sometimes it’s focused on the future or things to look forward to, but sometimes it’s about feeling happy with what is, and with what’s going on in the present moment.

      Words are fun, but they can be such a limited way to describe the world! I really wonder if other languages have more clear ways of describing the difference between different types of happiness? I like your questions and your nuanced sense of emotions!

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