Joy and happiness are both wonderful experiences, yet there’s a subtle difference. Learn to cultivate it internally, and stop looking outwards to find it.


As humans, we seek to find joy in our lives. But here’s the thing: joy is actually a choice we can make. It’s an attitude that we adopt that helps us live the life we want to live, and put out the energy that we choose. It allows us to be grateful for our triumphs, big and small. It’s being content and working for the things that matter, and letting go of those that don’t.

So why does this all matter?

Before we talk about that, let’s discuss what joy actually is. Merriam-Webster defines joy as:

  1. The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires
  2. A state of happiness
  3. A source or cause of delight

But when you dig a little deeper, there is more to joy than a state of happiness. Happiness is temporary. It is circumstantial, brought by good situations or events. And while happiness is good, it depends on external factors. So the saying, “money can’t buy happiness”? Not true. Money can buy happiness, but it can’t buy joy.  

Joy comes from within.  

It is not tied to events, things or circumstances, like landing a new job, buying a new car or celebrating a birthday. Joy is more like an attitude. It comes from a spiritual place, no matter what your spiritual belief might be. It comes from inner contentedness and worthiness. From feeling connected to self and others. Joy is present regardless of circumstances.

That’s the real difference between happiness and joy.

If you struggle with self-doubt, perfectionism, or building meaningful relationships, consider what is holding you back from feeling truly happy. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown discusses how as humans, it’s difficult for many of us to really feel joy because it requires us to be vulnerable. That in order to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable, we immediately combat joyful feelings or situations with a foreboding that something bad must be right around the corner.

We either live life expecting the worst, or we rehearse tragedy in our minds. By doing so, we constantly ‘prepare’ for the pain of what might happen that will take away our joy. It keeps us from fully experiencing joy, making many of us “joy starved.”

Why? Because really experiencing and feeling joy requires uncertainty and emotional risk.

We have to be vulnerable, and that can be scary as hell to most people. But living a life without joy is no way to live at all.  Through acknowledgement and forgiveness, the first place to start is self-acceptance. By making peace with yourself, you will begin to show yourself the same compassion you give to others and cultivate positivity internally.

Because a life of joy is what allows us to celebrate the little things so happiness is always created within.

Adapted from the original article.

Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN is a Texas-based Registered Dietitian and food enthusiast who shares delicious recipes for those who seek a healthy, vibrant life. By focusing on nourishment without giving up the joy of good food, Kaleigh helps others attain a balanced, wholesome approach to life that brings people together. Learn more about Kaleigh and visit her at Lively Table.