Recently, my talented journalist friend Anne interviewed me for a piece she is working on about joy. This gave me an opportunity to reflect and do a little digging into what we mean by joy and where it lives. This feels particularly relevant as we head into December and its dizzying combination of commercialism and good will. Not coincidentally I am writing this post on Cyber Monday in the wake of Black Friday, the most commercial time of year.

I came across several great definitions, and this is my favourite:

Joy is a sustained excitement about life that is not affected by external circumstances.

This distinguishes joy from happiness, which is often linked to people, places and things. Happiness, unlike joy, can be buffeted by external influences. Joy on the other hand is always present. It can bubble up even during tough times.

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. Albert Camus

A sure fire way to connect with the joy that lives inside you is to live in gratitude. Daily reflection on all the reasons to be grateful might start with the big things that we somehow to take for granted, for example:

  • I woke up this morning;
  • I’m breathing (so, as Jon Kabat-Zinn likes to say, “there’s more right with me than wrong with me”);
  • I had food for breakfast; and
  • I have a safe place to live.

The smaller things that we also manage to take for granted:

  • I can write this little newsletter on a computer that checks the spelling, easily formats and publishes it onto my very own web site where it’s broadcast almost everywhere!
  • My feet are warm just now because Hailey the yellow lab is sleeping on them.

grateful heart


A sweet gratitude practice is to start every day, when your feet first hit the ground, by remembering to say thank you, thank you, thank you.



Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are. Marianne Williamson

comparison thiefA sure fire way to move away from joy is to focus on what we perceive is lacking. On people, places and things that aren’t in our life right now. Focusing on any of these must mean that we are making comparisons, and as Mr. Roosevelt observed, comparison is the thief of joy.

Of course it’s fair game to ask where joy fits in the face of hardship or loss. Comparison is not helpful here either. Why compare? To what end? Pain is pain and loss is loss. The magnitude of pain in any one’s life is personal, not relative. A better approach than look how much worse off the other guy has it so who am I to feel this lesser pain, is to acknowledge and experience the pain. To look at it head on and accept the reality. Only after acceptance is it possible to move on to whatever’s next. ‘Next’ may be creating a solution. Making change. Grieving. Healing. Growing.

yes to imperfectHow does acceptance of painful reality link to joy? Joy is there all along, just inaccessible as long as reality is denied. Pretending that everything is OK doesn’t invite joy. Joy has no opposite. Feeling sad or low doesn’t negate the existence or the possibility of joy. When we accept what’s happening and stop ‘pushing against the river’, we invite joy. When we take the next small step, do the next right thing we move toward joy.

not getting what you want


At some point, the hardships are transformed into lessons and growth. That’s when it becomes easier to be grateful for them. Grateful for the fiery alchemy that transforms us. Knowing that lessons are arriving wrapped in tough times may not make them any easier, but perhaps the knowledge will shift our perspective toward acceptance.

One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.

If we are always keeping an eye out for the next better thing, person, relationship, kitchen gewgaw, pair of boots or whatever, how can we en-joy what’s right in front of us?

If however, we focus on fully appreciating what we have and where we are and who we are with in our lives right now, we are more likely to dwell in joy.

In other words, practice Buddhist economics:

Want what you have.


Questions for you to percolate:

  1. What are you grateful for?
  2. How is this gratitude linked to your enthusiasm for life?
  3. What in your life do you need to accept in order to invite joy?