Other words used to describe this type of happiness include “bliss” and “felicity,” and also “ecstasy,” which, translated from the ancient Greek ek-stasis, means “to stand outside oneself.” Joy is bigger than your ego.
It exists before the thought of “I.”
Joy is impossible to define, but it can be described. The most inspirational people to have walked this earth have tried to express what joy means to them. For example, Helen Keller described joy as “the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” Mother Teresa wrote, “Joy is prayer. Joy is strength. Joy is love. Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And C. S. Lewis referred to joy as “the serious business of Heaven.“
Describing joy is very difficult and very worthwhile. The more you tune in to joy and let yourself feel it, the more you learn about what true happiness is. I encourage my students to describe joy by meditating on joy, by painting joy, by singing joy, by dancing joy, by crafting a poem on joy, or by finding a symbol, in nature, for instance, that represents joy. What emerge are commonly felt qualities of joy, five of which I will share with you now.
1. Joy is Constant
When people tune in to the feeling of joy, what often emerges is an awareness that this joy is somehow always with us. Joy is quietly, invisibly ever-present. It is not “out there,” and it is not “in here”; rather, it is simply everywhere we are. Joy feels somehow beyond space and time. Joy does not come and go; what comes and goes is our awareness of joy. Ironically, we often feel the presence of joy the most when we stop chasing pleasure and we stop trying to satisfy our ego.
2. Joy Inspires Creativity
Upon discovering this joy, many people experience a greater sense of creativity that rushes through them. Your ego may get the byline, but really joy is the author. Joy is the doer. Joy is the thinker. Joy is the creative principle. In one of my favorite Upanishads, classic sacred texts of Indian literature, it is written: “From joy springs all creation, / By joy it is sustained. / Towards joy it proceeds, / and to joy it returns. No wonder so many artists take the course.
3. Joy is Often Unreasonable
I like to describe joy as “unreasonable happiness” because it doesn’t seem to need a reason. It is a happiness that is based on nothing. In other words, it doesn’t need a cause or an effect in order to exist. Certainly good things, favorable circumstances, and a happy state of mind can make you more receptive to joy; but joy still exists even when you are not receptive to it. Joy needs no reason. And this is why we can be surprised by joy even in the most ordinary moments.
4. Joy is Untroubled
Unlike pleasure and satisfaction, joy does not have an opposite. It does not swing up and down, as our moods do. And it does not wrestle with positives and negatives, as our mind does. Joy does, however, have a twin. If pleasure’s twin is pain, and satisfaction’s twin is dissatisfaction, then joy’s twin is love. When people describe joy to me they always mention love—even the lawyers, the politicians, and the psychologists.
Like love, joy is fearless and untroubled by the world. It is as if nothing in the world can tarnish or diminish the essence of joy. As such, it is free.
5. Joy is Enough
Many people describe a sense of emptiness and a “fall from grace” that follows an encounter with great pleasure and satisfaction. This is not the case with joy, however. One of the most beautiful qualities of joy is the abiding sense of “enoughness.” Unlike the ephemeral states of pleasure and satisfaction, joy does not induce a craving for more, because joy is enough. If ever we feel joy is missing, it is because we are absent-minded-caught up, probably, in some grief over a passing pleasure or preoccupied with a new object of desire.