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  • Writer's pictureJeb Brack

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Do you ever feel joy?

Family legend has it that my mother, heavily pregnant, went to a concert of classical music. When they played Beethoven's immortal Ode to Joy, the child in her belly (spoilers: me) roused, kicking in time with the music. I first heard this story at age 20 or so after seeing Die Hard, and being strangely moved by the film score. To this day, it stirs feelings of, well…joy. I listen to it, and I feel good.

But is it really joy? Not necessarily. Turns out that happinesss and joy are not exact synonyms. According to psychologist Sandra Brown, (not the Sandra Brown who writes romance novels), “Happiness is external. It's based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. “

So the Ode to Joy is joyous, to be sure, and it can inspire happiness in those who hear it—but not joy itself. (Confusing, ain’t it?)

I agree with this, but it's more about what joy is NOT. I want to know what it IS, and how to recognize it.

During this season we talk a lot about joy. For example, the “Linus Speech” in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, taken from the gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2 Verse 10-11:

“For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (You heard it in Linus’ voice, didn’t you?)

In fact, joy is mentioned quite a lot in a religious context, especially in relation to God and Jesus. It turns up quite often in carols and hymns, and that's because joy often resembles or accompanies religious exaltation. But if that is the only definition, then I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced joy. I certainly have never experienced it as the result of a religious experience.

I can think of times, though, when I have recognized a deep and abiding happiness pervading my entire self, perhaps inspired or begun by an experience or location, but existing past those boundaries. At times, I can recapture that feeling if I try, but most often it comes without any bidding—and not as frequently as I would like. I believe these are instances of joy in my life, and they are difficult to come by. Something is always interrupting the pursuit of such instances, disrupting the peace of mind that goes with them.


So In the coming month of brabble and confusion, I hope that you will put aside the distractions that beset you, search about for those feelings that come when you are in a favorite place or listening to a transcendent piece of music. Allow the feeling to take you, and recognize it for what it is.

In other words, I wish you both happiness--and joy.

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