What is Joy, Really? And How Would We Know If We Had It?

Joy may be a simple concept... but it's not easy. {image credit: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo}

Joy may be a simple concept… but it’s not easy. {image credit: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo}

When I admitted to watching a zombie movie in an attempt to relax, I was surprised how many people related to the epiphany that I’d forgotten how to have joy, and that I needed to get a life. But you know what? Just knowing I wasn’t alone in that struggle punched a hole in that dark place and let a little light stream in.

I want more of that. Sounds like you do, too.

But more of what, exactly?

I think that’s the place to start: What is joy, anyway? 

Honestly, I’m starting from the ground up, here. No preconceived notions of fairy-dust or happy feelings. The only way I know how to know something is to ask God, ask someone else, or read about it. So … let’s start with definitions.

  • Joy – an emotion, state of being, or source of happiness or delight (Dictionary.com)
  • Joy – the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires (Miriam-Webster)

Two stupid definitions, if you ask me. Because if it’s an emotion (definition 1), how can it realistically be a state of being? We have conflicts between our emotions and state of being all the time: we can be safe and feel unsafe. We can be strong and feel weak. Nope, I’m going to have to say those two seem unconnected.

And joy as evoked by success or good fortune (definition 2)? Well that’s just a messy problem for Christians who are told to

“Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” – James 1:2-3

That verse tells me it’s not a feeling or even a state of being…. it’s a choice. But what does that mean, for the love of Pete!? What are we choosing if it’s not a feeling?

It seems I’m not alone in that thought. As I searched around, here’s something else I found: Kay Warren doesn’t like the classic definitions of joy either. She writes in her post entitled “The Definition of Joy”

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

She says it’s train tracks… joy and sorrow running in parallel. Always together, always within reach of each other. When we look back over our lives we’ll see them seems to merge in to a single track as they approach the horizon. That’s what perspective and wisdom do for us: reveal that joy is something balanced by not-joy. Or, perhaps that joy is the presence of both with this settled assurance despite it all.

Which brings me to the next question: How would we know if we had joy?

I think it might be like when I’m at the gym and trying to stand on one of those infuriating balance boards. I can’t describe to you what it is to find my balance or to be able to move or do a squat while balancing on the board. It’s something you have to do for yourself.

I think joy might be a little like that. It’s finding our balance. Choosing to find it no matter what shifting platform life’s become.

What do you think? Is that what joy’s like for you?


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  1. says

    I love that definition from Kay Warren. It’s sits with me so much better than the other definitions you mentioned.

    Hello. I’m Rodney. One of the few guys on the Wall Around Your Heart Launch Team. I’m just dropping in to a few blogs to say hello. Keep up the blogging and I’ll see you online. 🙂

    • says

      Thanks for coming by to say hello! I’m so excited about Mary’s book. It will be fun to get to know you and the others for these next few months promoting it together!