Redefining Happiness and Searching for Joy


After reflecting on 2018 and thinking about what I wanted to achieve in 2019, I decided that, above all, I just wanted to find happiness, whether that’s in my writing, a post-grad job, or anything else. It wasn’t until I ventured down to Florida with my family that I realized just how flawed the word ‘happy’ is in our society and how that understanding has come to affect so many of our lives, including my own.

It all started when we went to an open mic night at Common Grounds, a spunky little coffee shop in Lake Worth, Florida. It seems like the entire town tries to squeeze in on these Saturday nights. The chairs are filled and there’s usually a crowd standing in the back. You never know exactly what you’re going to get: singers, comedians, musicians, spoken word poets. One time I watched a guy pace across the stage and recite a conversation he had with God. Everyone is welcomed with open arms, and it feels more like a family gathering than sitting in a coffee shop.

One particular poet caught my attention when she started talking about the difference between happiness and joy. I thought it was pretty silly to try and differentiate between two words that many people saw as synonyms. They both just make you feel good, right?

She started explaining that happiness is great, but fleeting. Like that new guy you just met who makes you feel so giddy and unstoppable, she said, happiness is the friend who takes you out to a really fun party and gets you drunk, but leaves when the lights come on and it’s time to clean up. Happiness will lift you up, but it will never stay to catch you when you fall.

Joy, on the other hand, she said, is something that fills you up. It’s not just that small part of a fleeting memory, but a way to live. It’s the way we observe the world around us, the way we handle the good, the bad, and all of the moments in between. Joy is finding something deeper within ourselves and being able to find something good in everything.

This is when I started to get it. I sat at this open mic night and slowly began to feel the world shift around me. There’s this misconception that life is always supposed to be happy. That’s how it always looks on Instagram, doesn’t it? Just because I don’t feel happy all the time, does that mean I’m doing something wrong? What about the days when everything is just average?

And that’s where I think we all get stuck, especially Americans. We’re searching for permanent happiness, when all it will ever be is fleeting. I decided that I want a life filled with happy moments, but a soul filled with joy. Joy comes not from a fun night out with friends, but knowing that the unspoken bonds you share will last a lifetime. From knowing that everyday you live is a good one because it means you are alive. Accepting that pain and failure are vital parts of life that help us grow stronger. I realized that you can search and you can look all over the world for joy, but the only place you will ever find it is within yourself.

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