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Joy is hard to describe. It’s not, as people sometimes think, “a state of extreme happiness or satisfaction.” Joy comes from a different root emotion than happiness. It often comes with embarrassing tears, even for otherwise stoic men, whereas happiness is usually fine with grins and smiles. There’s even a sadness mixed in joy…although it’s hard to say exactly why. And a good portion of thankfulness – even for people who don’t consciously believe in a God to be thankful to, (just as we curse the universe when we’re mad) joy requires a sense of cosmic gratefulness.
Another characteristic is: Joy can’t be faked (whereas happiness can). And you can’t cheer yourself up into a state of joy (unlike happiness, which can often be attained with a little practice), it just has to happen on its own. This is why it’s a little confusing that the Bible commands us to have joy ALWAYS. On the one hand, this gives us something better to shoot for any given day… Don’t try to make it a “good day” (which often means the absence of particular troubles and annoyances)…But instead get joy. Crappy circumstances can mar one’s happiness: an illness, a bad boss, annoying people, financial woes…but not with joy. Hardships just make joy sweeter. Which is why it makes sense to shoot for that and not the other (not that there’s anything wrong with just being happy).
But on the other hand, how do we get this thing that we can’t get on our own? It’s like the Bible is laughing at us, making us chase rainbows we can never catch, a joy we can never hold onto… Unless… somehow, the criteria for our joy has already been filled, that things that were beyond hope have already come true…and a situation inspiring unending thankfulness has already taken place. In which case getting this joy is just a matter of opening our eyes and believing something that is already true. Like an inheritance that is saved and earned by another and then given to you as a result of a death – one small part of Jesus’ claim is that from now on, joy is part of your inheritance…
So how do you describe joy?
[About the pic: One pissed off cat, from one of those email thingies a few years ago… If you want the story that goes along with the picture…]