Happiness or Joy?

One of the quotes that I’ve kept tucked in my pocket to pull out at the precise moment of the perfect-occasion-waiting-to-happen has assisted in providing my blog theme, Closed Doors, Open Windows. The following wise morsel has been attributed to both Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell on the source I consulted, so if someone wishes to clear up that enigma please do; nonetheless, the message has a potent content:

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

Why does a door closing often cause such a strong internal knee-jerk reaction?  Often times there is a firm connection made between what is on the other side of that door and what we perceive as a source of our happiness.  The key word is perceive. More often than not I believe we make decisions based on ease and comfort during the short term instead of joy and peace over the long haul.  That is rooted in our perception, our definitions of happiness or joy, our spiritual practices or lack thereof, our attitude, and the way that we as humans operate.

It is utterly human to become locked into a way of living, thinking, working because we like our schedule, our norm, our comfort zone.  We like to be in control, to feel the power of control, to line up all our ducks in a row and methodically take them out one-by-one according to our own agenda.  Conversely, it is completely divinely-inspired to allow our control to come under a greater control, the Lord’s control.  Consider for a moment that ultimately the entire Universe is not under our control.  Whether people believe in God or not, that is the reality.  To fight whatever Force is controlling the Universe doesn’t hurt Him but it impairs us. The impairment derives from the fact that while we fight so hard to keep a tight hold on the tiny amount that we can control in this life, we loose sight of the grand scheme of things and fail to admit often unpleasant realities.

Namely, the world does not revolve around us and what we want, but something so much greater that we can barely begin to fathom let alone understand — a mysterious Being that we cannot physically see and His love and His plan.  The other unkind truth to reconcile ourselves to is that we cannot always have what we want when we want it, as that may apply to a lunch order at Burger King but should not become a mantra to live by.  Some may wonder why I question the process of going after everything that you think you want when you think that you want it.  In order to address that on a deeper level requires comparing happiness and joy.

On a strictly linguistics level, the two words can be defined as such:

Happiness: (noun) the quality or state of being happy.  Happy is further defined as delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.

Joy:  (noun) a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated.

Happiness by its very nature is a state obtained through pursuing something to evoke that particular quality.  While joy is a source, something soundly rooted and of greater value and therefore should be more highly sought after.  Seeking things to bring us happiness is an empty chase, as when will enough ever be enough?  Seeking a source that will yield joy however will satiate us on a much deeper level and can therefore bear fruit.

Looking beyond the simple definitions, the spiritual significance of joy puts the smack down on the fleeting whim of happiness.  Consider how the Catechism of the Catholic Church further develops the term in just one of the many references to joy, as follows:

2500 “The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. Truth in words, the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality, is necessary to man, who is endowed with intellect. But truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos-which both the child and the scientist discover-“from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.”

[Wisdom] is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. For [wisdom] is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. I became enamored of her beauty.”

Joy is a spiritual benefit reaped from the practice of goodness, and furthermore is intrinsically linked to truth and beauty.  Stated another way, the pursuit of goodness will bring about a desirable benefit of joy.  For the Christian, that pursuit is considered part of the process of becoming holy, and takes the commitment to follow and be willing to undergo a transformation to become more Christlike.  As my friend Jeff used to joke in his best preacher-like impression concerning discipleship, “Jesus did not say pick up your lawn chairs, He said pick up your cross.”  I’ve discovered through trial and error that much of carrying my cross and the transformation process is not so much in doing, but in being.  For example, being still, being attentive, being flexible, being prayerful, being open to what doors should close and hence what windows will open…  Now if I could only apply that knowledge!

A thought to ponder when a closed door becomes a painful experience:  Perhaps evaluating not just what is behind that door that just closed, but what it means to you and what not having it also means, would provide a wealth of information which would be highly beneficial in terms of self-discovery. Once you come to terms with those answers, regardless of how gut-wrenching they may be, move forward.  Staring at that closed door means we have not accepted that it is no longer for us, and to live in that denial is a waste of energy and focus.  Imagine what unfathomable things are waiting to be accomplished with that energy which is no longer being squandered in a useless direction.  Channeling that focus and purpose towards the window that will soon reveal itself will create a force of attraction to pull you forth, to greater things still!

As referenced earlier, perception is the lynch pin around which everything revolves.  Seeking an open window and focusing on the joy that will be obtained through a door closing is a choice based on a point of view.  Looking through this lens helps me to evaluate my current situation.  I am blessed to see the door closing of my previous job as an invitation to open a window into a whole new world of opportunity just waiting to be snatched up.  Truth be told, I am simultaneously exhilarated and nervous as a worm in a hen house to be going through this considering my circumstances in life, being a single woman and what not.  But I know that I have a purpose, the purpose God intended for me, that will bring me ultimate joy, peace and greater meaning to my existence.  Bearing all this in mind, the question posed by Jackie Beaver’s at a speaking engagement I attended on Friday night takes on even greater significance, “Can you afford not to fulfill your purpose in life”?

If there is a door closing in your life right now, I challenge you to evaluate it based on a larger scale.  Open your mind and then, for the stout-hearted, I dare you to ask God what he might be trying to reveal about your life, love and the pursuit of JOY.  Beyond asking Him that almighty question, I encourage you to follow through by waiting and listening for the answer that He wishes to give you in the still moments where He longs to meet you.  After all, it just might make all the difference in opening the next window.

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2 thoughts on “Happiness or Joy?

  1. Mary says:

    I always thought that quote was from The Sound of Music. 😉 Maria says, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” But Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell sound much smarter.

    Like

  2. Lisa says:

    Indeed, Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell are considered smart cookies the world over; but the beloved Maria Von Trapp has equal quotableness. Speaking of, here’s an interesting article on the true story of the Von Trapp Family if you’re interested: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/winter/von-trapps.html

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