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July 5, 2017
FUN: The Lighter Side of Leadership
July 5, 2017

Joy vs. Happiness: Who Wins?

Married by twenty-five, kids by thirty, single-family home with a white picket fence by thirty-five, and a secure job for one or both spouses by forty. Sound familiar? Oh, did I forget a Disney trip somewhere in there for the entire family no later than little Mary is 9?

In American culture, oftentimes this is what we equate happiness to, but is it true? I mean, there are movies like “The Pursuit of Happiness” that reinforce it, our own expectations that back it, other expectations that instill it, and just “the way it’s always been” mentality to back up this dream-like life. But do we ever truly question it? Do we let the wind of our culture dictate or define what happiness is or what it means for us?

Isn’t it interesting that there are so many things in our society that we question – political issues, motives of people hearts, etc. – but something we rarely question is what truly satisfies the human spirit?

The River

I recently heard someone give a powerful metaphor to this very point:

A man found himself jumping in a river when he was young. The river went as far as the eye could see ahead of him and as far as the eye could see behind him. This river was obviously moving with a forward current and there was consistent and growing activity in the river – people making things, doing specific things, helping one another, etc. Then suddenly, this person found himself at a sandbar and stepped outside of the river for the first time in nearly twenty years. At that moment, he gained a unique perspective that this river was all he knew  – but there was more. There was ocean beyond the river that no one even knew existed. It did not mean that the river was bad; it just meant that the ocean was bigger and better!

I believe that the river is happiness and the ocean is Joy. Although happiness is good, it is dependent upon our circumstances. In a sense, there is a condition on happiness. If this happens, then I will be happy, if that happens, then I will be happy. If I pursue this job, this relationship, this promotion, this goal, and it doesn’t happen, then what? Am I still happy?

Here is another way to think of it: Suppose you had all the money in the world and could eat at the finest restaurants with all the food choices, yet you didn’t have awareness of anything outside of Ruby Tuesday’s or Applebee’s?

Happiness feeds on expectation. Joy is deeper. Is not dependent upon circumstances, situations, goals, or aspirations. It is simply a gift with no strings attached. Not one. Joy is an unspeakable, unshakable, and enduring anchor – regardless of where we find ourselves.

A happy person may see the glass half-filled, but a joyful person always sees it overflowing.


Robb Holman is Co-Founder of Agents of Efficiency and Chief Architect of Inside Out Leadership™