Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Through my work as both an HCM caregiver and Executive Coach, I’ve learned some things about joy – about how important it is, and about how to experience more of it. Hopefully, you will find this useful in your own journey as well.
What is joy?
Now there’s a fun question! In short, it depends – on who you ask – at least from a secular standpoint. Here are some words that show up in various definitions:
Happiness, great pleasure, delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation,
Gladness, glee, exhilaration, ebullience, bliss, euphoria
Joie de vivre, rapture
In emotional intelligence, Jan Johnson and Ron Short (founders of the EQ organization Learning in Action) describe healthy joy as bringing the gifts of emotional vitality, vigor, resilience, zest, and confidence, and as representing our emotional fuel tank – what helps us keep going in the presence of stress. You may recall the phrase “window of tolerance” from one of our seminars – it is a way to describe our ability to handle stressful situations without resorting to one of our old coping mechanisms (which are often dysfunctional behaviors and generally don’t work in our adulthood). Joy, then, increases our window of tolerance.
In light of that, joy appears to be bigger, somehow, than just happiness. In her book “The How of Happiness” Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us that based on her research, happiness is driven 50% by our “happiness set-point”, 10% by circumstances, and 40% by how we approach it. The happiness set point is based on what I like to refer to as our “factory settings” – genetics, epigenetics, what we experienced and how we were formed in early childhood. Circumstances are exactly what the word implies – luck, things that happen to and for us, wealth, friends, location, and so on. But she says 40% is up to us – we can make it happen, or not – we have control over this piece – allowing us to be intentional about it.
That’s all well and good – and even very helpful. But, what does the bible say about joy? Here are some biblical perspectives:
The word joy appears 242 times in the NIV bible
Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
Joy is associated with celebration (Genesis 31:27)
Joy can cause us to worship (Leviticus 9:24)
It is sometimes a command (Deuteronomy 16:14)
It is the Lord’s dwelling place (1 Chronicles 16:27)
In what is sometimes called “The Book of Joy”, Paul in Philippians describes it as:
A result of love in community (1:4, 2:2, 2:28-30, 4:1). There is joy in being with and working with and loving our brothers and sisters, and seeing the fruit of our spiritual work.
Inherent in our faith (1:25)
It seems that in biblical terms, joy is somehow deeper than happiness, more impactful, more a function of connection with others, linked to manifestations of the imago dei in us, and therefore God-given, Spirit-inspired.
Given all of that, an interesting question arises – how often and how much do I experience joy? For me, this question became very important when I received the results of my EQ (emotional intelligence) assessment as I was becoming certified as an EQIA practitioner (EQ In Action is an assessment tool I use with my coaching clients). It turned out that I had relatively low access to joy.
A couple of years later I learned through a seminar that a piece of research showed that from a temporal (in this case, meaning past, present and future) standpoint, the same event looked forward to is more joyful than looked back upon, is more joyful than experienced in the present. I began to see the connection between joy and the power of imagination (looking forward), the importance of episodic memory (looking backward), and the difficulty of present moment awareness.
An Action Plan Emerges
Determining that I needed to be intentional about experiencing more joy and making it more of a personal emphasis to be aware of it, I spent a day in the woods at a picnic table thinking about what brings me joy and how to “do it” better. Two “joy tracks” emerged for me. First, is the temporal track – what kinds of things do I look forward to, look back on with joy, revel in – in the moment? As an example, I like to travel, and often it is seeing the magnificence of God’s creation that brings me joy – the enormity of the Grand Canyon, the elegant grace of a leopard in South Africa, the odd beauty of the rock formations in Central Turkey or Northern New Mexico. So, I plan trips to look forward to, and I create little books of pictures to remember the past trips. And when I’m in the moment, I take two pictures – one with my camera (for the book), and one with my mind – capturing that feeling of joy as I experience something amazing. Second is the sensory track – what sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches bring me joy? For example, the sound of children on a playground, or of 50,000 men singing Holy, Holy, Holy at Promise-Keepers; the feel of bare toes in warm sand at the beach; the taste of good black tea with honey, and so on.
But for me, the best one of all – the most joy-inducing thing, is the sense of being with Jesus in safe place – His touch, His words, His love – love that permeates the entire experience, changes me, deepens my faith, draws me in. So, abiding – Terry Wardle's second “A” of the 5 A’s is the most powerful joy-inducer for me – it’s like a travel charger for my phone, only better and way more important.
The best thing for me to experience more joy is to abide, plan for joy-makers, remember past joys, be aware and notice joy in the moment, and feel the depth of all of it through my five senses. My hope for you is that you experience more joy – starting now!
After spending over 30 years in the corporate world in various executive roles, Doug began a new career as an executive coach and consultant. He was introduced to Healing Care Ministries in 2008, and is now on a lifetime healing journey. His current role as the COO allows him to share the amazing transforming power of Christ with others. He lives in Westerville with his wife of 41 years (Sally). They have 2 children and 2 grandchildren. He loves to travel with Sally, and spend time with the grandkids.