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Moving from Happiness to Joy

steppingstonesLast week, in a post called “The Discomfort of Happiness,” I shared some recent experiences I’ve had around feeling happy.

Then (in what always proves to be a gutsy move in hindsight) I shared the post with my longtime mentor.

Her very first question to me was to ask why I had chosen the word “happiness” instead of “joy.”

It’s not like I hadn’t foreseen that question coming – I was just so delighted to be progressing from “uncomfortable unhappiness” to “uncomfortable happiness” that I hadn’t bothered to wonder much about it.

But once your mentor asks you a question on the very topic you’ve decided you don’t need to contemplate yet, you know the moment has arrived to contemplate it.


So after much contemplating, what I shared with her is this – for me, “joy” feels like a timeless experience.

For instance, I feel joy when I am watching my pet parrot, Pearl, preening his feathers (or stealing my lunch). I feel joy when I gaze up at a pure blue sky or walk along a sandy beach. With joy, time itself stops. I’m not aware of “now” or “later.” It doesn’t occur to me to wonder what will happen when the joyful moment passes….because I’m not having a “moment.” I’m feeling JOY.

“Happiness,” in contrast, feels exactly like a momentary experience – like “well for now I’m happy, but check back with me in 10 minutes or tomorrow for updates.”

Happiness is what I feel when other human beings (besides me) are involved. Happiness happens when someone says something nice to me, or my partner holds the door and lets me go first, or I get paid for my writing (still one of the great miracles of life IMO).

I told my mentor that, in a way, happiness feels like a stepping stone to joy.

First there is unhappiness. I have lots of experience with that one – to the point where I could safely call myself an expert.

Next comes happiness. It comes and goes, somewhat mysteriously in fact, and often seems to have more to do with another person’s choices, actions, or moods than my own.

Finally, joy arrives. Joy signifies that place in life where my parrot steals the last morsel of my favorite lunch, my writing is rejected, my partner leaves, and all the sandy beaches (and cute shrieking seagulls) disappear for good….and I’m still happy.

Because at that point I’m anchored in joy-happy, not happy-happy.

I guess what I’m trying to say – what I think I’m getting at – is that joy is “inside happiness.” Joy is that state of, well, joy, that nothing outside me can shake off or take away.

Today’s Takeaway: “Happiness” + “joy” (like “recovering” + “recovered,” or “religious” + “spiritual”) is one of those word sets that comes with a million assumptions, opinions, definitions, and perspectives attached. What is your take on the difference or similarity between the two? How do you know when what you are feeling is “happiness” versus “joy?” I’d love to hear your take on this topic!

Stepping stones image available from Shutterstock.

Moving from Happiness to Joy

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Moving from Happiness to Joy. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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