More Joy: What You Need to Know
I end almost every communication with, “I wish you more joy…” But what does it mean to experience joy, and especially more of it? That’s a question even researchers have been trying to figure out.
Joy is one of the least studied of human emotions!
Positive psychologists have spent the enormity of their time studying happiness, but comparatively little time on understanding joy. Matthew Kuan Johnson, a philosophy professor and researcher at the University of Cambridge (UK) sought to bring together the few studies on joy that exist with the hopes of creating a unified definition and understanding of the power of joy in our lives.
In his research, Johnson found that joy is explained four different ways: emotion, mood, trait (disposition), and spirit.
Four Ways to Explain Joy
1. Joy as an Emotion:
Emotions reflect how a person feels, how a person perceives a situation, and the person’s evaluation of the situation. Joy as an emotion then is how you feel in response to something you perceive as good happening for which you have concern. Joy as an emotion is brief, lasting seconds or minutes. It can vary in intensity, and unlike other emotions like happiness, joy can be experienced in combination with other emotions, such as sorrow. As an emotion, joy is caused by some event and is usually felt from the heart.
Example: You receive a text message from a loved one you had a disagreement with, and they are apologizing and letting you know how much you mean to them. You feel joy in that moment.
2. Joy as a Mood:
A mood is a conscious state of mind. Unlike joy as an emotion, joy as a mood is not caused by a specific event. And where emotions are related to the heart, moods are cognitive. As a mood, joy can rise and fall gradually versus the episodic nature of emotions. A mood is also longer lasting than an emotion, enduring days, weeks, or even months. People who have a joyful mood tend to experience joy more easily and frequently and in a variety of situations.
Example: You reflect on your life. Overall, you assess that things are going well for you. You “Choose Joy.”
3. Joy as a Trait:
A trait is a distinguishing quality or characteristic belonging to a person. When someone has joy as a trait, it’s a part of who they are. While emotional joy requires that everything is going well, dispositional (trait) joy, like mood, has no requirement of external circumstances. There is a deep satisfaction that comes from a person’s spiritual connection to a Higher Source, and a confidence that everything generally works out for the best. As a trait, joy grows out of gratitude.
Example: Regardless of what is going on, you are deeply grateful and believe that God is watching over you. People describe you as a joyful person.
4. Joy as a Fruit:
This joyful quality is perhaps the most spiritual of all. In the Christian Bible, joy is listed as one of the nine fruits of the Spirit. It was listed second behind love, and appears in the Bible 200 times, which signals its importance. Many spiritual, religious, and non-religious teachings speak about the power of joy in a person’s life. As a fruit, joy goes beyond having a trait or dispositional joy. When joy is a fruit of the Spirit, there is a “subtle and enduring feeling of joy…one experiences a deep, spiritual sense of satisfaction, confidence, or gratitude, even in the midst of severe persecution, suffering, or sorrow.”
Example: A loved one passes, you experience a chronic illness, or your best friend betrays you. Though you feel pain, you also experience a deep sense of gratitude. You say, “It is well with my soul.”
Each of these explanations of joy advance from the least stable to the most enduring. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is the strongest because its seed resides within you. It is your natural state of being.
Three Ways You Can Cultivate More Joy in Your Life
The good news is that you can experience joy at any time and through any circumstance. Three ways to cultivate the seeds of joy are through your perceptions, practicing gratitude, and sharing with others.
Perspective: When you change the way you think about things, the things you think about change. Having a positive mindset and abiding confidence that everything will turn out for the best will increase your joy. Joy is only a thought away. By retraining your mind to see new possibilities and perceive your circumstances in a new light, you can bring about more joy into your life. Consider how you can reframe the situation, find the silver lining, and gather confidence that all things are impermanent, and as surely as tough times arrive, better days are ahead.
Gratitude: A second way to have more joy in your life is to practice gratitude. When you find yourself worrying, complaining, or spiraling downward, stop. Acknowledge your feelings, but remembering that feelings are temporary, turn your thoughts toward all there is to be grateful for in your life. It’s hard to be grateful and sad at the same time. In his studies, Johnson found that joy and gratitude mutually reinforce each other.
Share: Thirdly, we experience joy in relationship with others. A Swedish proverb says, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” When joy is shared, it multiplies. Think about joy as a disposition and fruit. When we are around joyful people, we can’t help but be more joyful. Joy transcends self. When we serve others, we experience more joy. Think about a cause you care about deeply. It can be as close as being a good parent to your child, making your company better or leading your team, volunteering in your community, serving your country, working to save the environment, or holding space for a friend in need. When you immerse yourself in something that connects you to others and improves the human condition, you will experience more joy.
I wish you more joy.
 Matthew Kuan Johnson (2020) Joy: a review of the literature and suggestions for future directions, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15:1, 5-24, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1685581
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