Google's definition of joy reminds me of going to the yogurt place near our house. You get there, and there's a stack of tiny cups on a tray that you're allowed to take for free. You can go to the different yogurt flavor stations and try any flavor you like. Then, when you're sold on one, you can get a big giant cup and fill it up. So, according to this line of thought, happiness is sort of like the tiny cup and joy is like the deeper one.
But, after really thinking about joy, I've decided that joy is different from happiness. It's not just more of the same thing. For one, I think that happiness is an emotion. I think it's a great feeling that is created in your brain when positive stimuli makes certain neurotransmitters dance around in your synapses. Happiness is fun, it feels great. But does it come from God?
And what about when something really negative happens? We have completely different brain pathways and neurotransmitter dances that respond to the really hard stuff in life. Some of the emotions that come along with that include sadness, depression, defeat, anxiety, etc. And yet, I think that God expects us to be able to weather those tough times, and to even be joyful in them. "Be joyful in hope," he says. We don't really need hope when we're feeling happy. We need hope when it's hard. And yet, he says, "be joyful."
So I kept poking around on the internet and found a blog that opened up the concept of joy a little more. The blog was written by Kay Warren, a woman who most definitely has walked through some of the toughest stuff life can throw at a person. If you're interested, here's the link: The Definition of Joy
In the blog, Kay writes that people usually classify their life in seasons. Seasons of sadness, happy times, "the good, old days," that type of thing. But in reality, in every season, there are good things and bad things going on at the same time, and we experience the emotions that go along with those things throughout each stage of life. She says to think of the experiences and their emotions like parallel train tracks.
I really liked this line of thought. So, just in the past day or so, I've been thinking about the "train track" experiences I have had. Here are just a few:
- scored a soccer goal
- steaks with Andy on Friday night
- texts from friends
- students getting really excited about our creation vs. evolution "Great Debate"
- Story's little red coat hanging on the wall
- getting ready for Thanksgiving guests
- students asking "when will you have that posted/graded?"
- knowing I've hurt someone I love
- Story's first cold
- car troubles
- students who don't pay attention
So where does joy fit in? Kay doesn't say this in her blog, but one of the things that I've been wondering is... is joy a connection between the tracks? Could it be that both the happy and the sad can meet and have greater significance than just the emotions that the circumstances evoke?
I don't know, I've got a lot more thinking/digging in to do. But, I will say this... the experience that I would consider the most "joyful" in the past 24 hours came when I was driving home after picking Story up yesterday. I was feeling really defeated. Something about the day just had me feeling like a failure, like I hadn't communicated or loved well throughout the school day. Story was in the back of the car and I felt like I had no energy for my sweet one. And yet the rain was falling gently, and the prospect of a cold, rainy weekend snuggled up at home with my favorite humans sounded amazing. In that moment, the two tracks of my life had equal input, and I needed help sorting them out. I told Story I needed to talk to Jesus, so I did. I just told him about how I felt, how I felt like I hadn't done a good enough job teaching, how I needed his help in my relationships. But I thanked him because, no matter how I perform, he still loves me. And I think that he gave me some joy in that moment. I ceased worrying about the day. I didn't do something to generate more happiness (like shop or have a glass of wine or get something sweet to eat) I just stayed in the moment with Jesus until the bad connected with the good, and I could see that I would be okay.