This week we encountered a philosophical question of the type that has at the same time a clear answer while also having no definitive answer. Can you be happy without being joyful or joyful without being happy? We tend to use these interchangeably, especially at occasions. We tell others to have Happy Holidays! We wish people the Joy of the Season! Even during normal everyday greetings we are just as likely to tell someone to “have a happy day” as well as to wish that they “enjoy the day.” Can you experience one without the other? Do you have to have both? Can you have both?
We believe happiness and joy, although related and often intertwined, are different experiences. Michael describes happiness as more materialistic of the two. We are happy with things, with people, with circumstances. Joy is a deeper feeling. It is peace and contentment and feeling all is or will be right and good. Considering that explanation, joy and happiness do not depend on the other to exist. You can be sad and still be joyful, knowing the good you experience exceeds the sad even though in the moment, sadness is the prevailing emotion. Conversely you can be happy that something has happened to you, perhaps an award at work, but not be joyful over it as it doesn’t add to your overall feeling of contentment with yourself. And this is why some people always seem to be joyful even though you, as an outsider to their lives, perceive they have nothing to be happy about.
Recently in a different site, Michael wrote of his joyful experiences while little of what was happening seemed very happy.
A little more than twenty years ago right at the turn of the century, I was diagnosed with a condition we now call Granulomatosis with polyangiitis or GPA. At that time, before most of the current, common treatments had been developed, the mortality rate was close to 45% at 12months. The current treatments, which have improved odds to a 97% survival rate, were not commonly used until the 2010s. That I lived ten years to make it to the that treatment landscape and an opportunity that I could live life anew was a miracle.
It was just about that time ten years ago, when I was finally able to reap the benefits of modern medical research, that I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, helped along by the very drugs that kept me alive for those ten years. The surgeries I underwent to clear the cancer were long and not without complications, such that I spent most of the first year after surgery in the hospital. The 5 year survival rate for regional or stage 2 bladder cancer is 38%. That I lived to make it those 5 years to 2018 was a miracle.
It was then that I was undergoing the first tests to determine if I might be a candidate for a kidney transplant. I had been on dialysis for over 2 years, and a year later, on the day after Memorial Day 2019, I had my transplant and was functioning without the help of the dialysis machine. And that lasted for all of 2 days. Then blood clots set in. Unable to be cleared by drugs or surgeons, and at risk for even greater complications, the decision was made to remove the transplanted kidney and return me to dialysis. And by the middle of June of 2019 I was back to the dialysis clinic.
But then something happened! Tests came back with unexpected results, output returned to near normal levels. By the end of the year doctors were conferring regularly about “my case” and on January 21, 2020, I had my last dialysis session, displaying still not normal but quite adequate function courtesy of my remaining “old” kidney. The doctors cited a lot of technical possibilities but most were happy explaining it as a miracle.
Three times in twenty years I had been given chances to a new life.
We set our own definitions of happiness and joy but of those, people describe happiness as being reliant on something, such as “I’m so happy I got this promotion” or “I’m happy I got a new bike for my birthday.” One could say sadness also relies on something else happening. We may be sad that we missed an event perhaps while we are sick or didn’t get an anticipated promotion at work. Joy comes from within. We may be happy about the promotion or the bike, but we likely also be joyful that someone knew us, liked us, and loved us enough to know we really wanted that bike and that having it may make us happy. Nobody is happy having to suffer chronic illnesses, undergo surgical procedures, or be subjected to routine dialysis. But it is possible to be joyful knowing you have experienced the miracles of recovery and renewal and can still lead a full life. Michael had once described it as happiness is of the world, joy is of ourselves. “Happiness is out there and we take what the world gives us and make it something joyful.”
Can you be happy without being joyful or joyful without being happy? We’d do well to remember there is such a great difference between happy and joyful and there is enough room in our lives for both. Happiness is the immense gratitude of something good life brought about. Joy is knowing something wonderful is happening, even joy not yet realized.