Despite 12 years of Catholic education, I consider myself more spiritual than religious.
You may argue that “spiritual” and “religious” mean the same thing. But to me, being spiritual relates to matters of the soul and intangible things, including heavenly beings. Being “religious” pertains to the specific beliefs of a particular religion.
My blog, my opinion.
It’s fair to say that I believe in God as well as angels. I hope like hell there is a heaven (pun intended) in the afterlife. All other details are up for negotiation.
Consequently, Christmas has become a time of reflection and introspection for me, rather than a religious celebration. So when my daughter asked me to accompany her to church on Christmas Eve, I decided to go more for her than for the experience. After all, I finally figured out that God is everywhere, and I don’t need a church to talk to Him or pray to Him.
Now I have to mention that my daughter’s church is a non-denominational Christian fellowship that she was introduced to by friends a while back. Not exactly traditional, or even familiar, for that matter. But she loves it. I vowed to keep an open mind.
The “church” was really an auditorium, and the stage (couldn’t call it an altar) was arranged like a concert with a drum set on risers and various musical instruments in stands. About a dozen small lighted birch trees were evenly scattered on the stage, like soldiers in formation. A huge digital screen above it, displaying messages and song lyrics during the service. It was definitely a different experience than I am used to.
But the heart and soul of any religious service is the sermon. If the message is clear AND is communicated without judgment AND sticks with me for hours or perhaps days…well, let’s just say that this sermon really spoke to me.
The pastor spoke of JOY. Which makes sense because it was Christmas Eve, and JOY is what the birth of Jesus is supposed to bring to Christians all over the world. He quoted numerous scripture verses that mention JOY. He pointed out that the word JOY appears 214 times in the Bible. We sang “JOY to the World” after his sermon.
All that being said, my fascination with his message about JOY had very little to do with religion. He spoke specifically about the difference between HAPPINESS and JOY.
The pastor referenced happiness as this wonderfully pleasant feeling that many people seek. When you eat a delicious meal with family around the table, it makes you happy. Or if you receive something special, like a gift or a compliment or recognition for something, you will be happy.
Happiness is something many people seek and work hard to achieve. I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? I even wrote a post several months ago about it called Be Happy: A Grammatical Perspective. I liked writing that post and, at the time, strongly believed in what I was writing.
But my semantics were off.
Happiness is fleeting and temporary. It is a reaction to something that happens to you. When good things happen, happiness increases. When bad things happen, happiness decreases. Happiness goes up and down like a rollercoaster.
JOY, on the other hand, is not generated by exterior causes. JOY is an attitude that comes from within. It is powerful, and it is resilient.
While some people seek happiness as their main goal in life, I realize now that they are missing the point. Reaching a goal implies an ending. JOY is about the journey. JOY is the perspective along the way. While happiness dissipates after the source is removed, JOY involves lasting satisfaction. JOY exists even in the face of adversity, in spite of those things that might make us unhappy.
Is JOY easy to attain? Is it inevitable for everyone? Of course not. It is a conscious choice. A state of mind. But when you seek JOY and find it, it changes the way you live your life. It changes everything. It becomes an undercurrent in the everyday existence. So while happiness comes and happiness goes, JOY is enduring.
This JOY vs. HAPPINESS debate is not new. It’s been written about many times over. Like here and here. So why is it that I am just now truly understanding what this means? Part of it is attention. I suppose I never really paid attention to the differences. They were always just interchangeable words to me. Also, I believe that you must reach a certain point in your life where you give a shit about those differences. I think people need the clarity of those ups and downs of happiness, resulting from external sources, to truly appreciate the internal nature of JOY.
It’s kind of like what Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy at the very end of The Wizard of Oz. And yes, this is paraphrased: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
For 2019, I am making a resolution of JOY. I know this won’t be easy. In truth, I’m not even sure how to accomplish this! This mindset goes against my natural inclination to feel (and wallow in) every single emotion I have. But in truth, I can still experience all those crazy emotions because JOY will carry me through.
So forget the resolutions of “I will lose 20 pounds” or “I will do more volunteer work” or “I am going to take up painting/gardening/salsa-dancing.” Resolutions don’t have to be about doing something. They can be about feeling something.
I resolve to feel JOY.