Joy is a funny, powerful, wonderful thing. It’s more than a fuzzy warm feeling or a great emotion. It’s even more than happiness. Happiness, strictly speaking, is the realization of my desires or when everything l want works out. Joy, on the other hand, is a gladness that runs deeper than the circumstances. Joy doesn’t come from getting what I want. It comes from being who I am.
Try these 7 steps to real joy:
Two peas in a pod: Vulnerability and joy
Joy comes from being vulnerable to love. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown calls vulnerability “the constant companion of joy.” Joy actually springs from the fact I am not sufficient in myself – as a human person, I am vulnerable. I need others. I need God. And it’s that very place of need that leads to relationship and communion, which is what our thirsty hearts long for.
Removing the Shield / Exposing the heart
Joy requires an open, exposed heart – a willingness to risk being loved and loving. Sure, the risk is real. Jesus exposed His Heart, and it was pierced. But only a heart that is willing to be pierced can be filled with the joy of the Resurrection. If we walk through life with a shield around our hearts, we may well avoid being disappointed and hurt, but at the same time we also close ourselves off from truly experiencing God’s delight.
Knowing who, what, where: The conviction that my life matters
You see, deep joy comes from being rooted in God’s love, knowing that I am infinitely loved and delighted in and never alone. Knowing my identity – who I am, where I come from, and where I am going – gives me a gladness that nothing, not even suffering, can take away. Take a look at the apostles and martyrs: they had joy in the face of suffering and death because they had opened themselves up to a certainty greater than fear. They relied on God completely.
Reconnecting to the Vine: Relying on Him for everything
So much unhappiness comes from a disconnect between what I believe about myself and God and what is real about myself and God. We have joy when we reconnect and stay connected. Joy can’t be manufactured or forced or bottled up because, ultimately, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – it’s overflow. We have to be connected to Him to experience it. We’re not talking social media “connected”; we’re talking vine and branches connected (Jn 15:5). Jesus wants us to abide in Him, to rely on Him for everything.
No more white-knuckling: Open to be filled with Him
The more I try to be in absolute control of my life, the less vulnerable I am, and the less joy I have. It’s only when I release my white-knuckled grasp of my own plans that my hands can be filled with His. After all, Psalm 34 says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” not, “think and see” or “analyze and see” or “work really hard to see” the goodness of the Lord. Joy comes from savoring the goodness of God, the ordinary delights of the day, and the people placed in our life.
Living in reality: Blooming, true to our nature
Joy also comes from living in right relationship with myself, God, and others. Why? Because joy blooms when we live in accord with our nature – that is, when we live according to how God created us to flourish. It bubbles up from a deep experience of “rightness” – not in the sense of perfection, but in the sense of the rightness of a thirsty man drinking water or of a mother nursing her child or of a planted seed that sprouts. It’s the rightness of living from the deep truth of who we are.
Enough about me: Embracing the other
Joy comes with self-giving love. “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (St. John Paul II) “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
Originally printed in our Fall 2018 issue of Imprint.