I. Want. Happiness.

“100% of many-your-own sundae bars end in happiness” – Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

During a recent morning commute to work, I happened upon a snapshot of a conversation between two men walking along the sidewalk.  While I had no context for what I heard, what stuck with me was the emphatic – and repeated – declaration of one of the men:  “I want happiness”.  What did he mean by that, did he know what he was saying?  Did he secretly want a make-your-own sundae bar?!

In the dictionary the older definition of happiness amounts to “good fortune” or prosperity, while the newer definition defines it as a statement of well-being or contentment.  This newer definition counts JOY amongst its synonyms and  I don’t think I agree.  While both words aren’t polar opposites, there are differences between them.

As I have come to understand it, the difference between Happiness and Joy is actually one of control.  Happiness tends to be circumstantial, based upon the situation you’re in and the good feelings that said  situation(s) elicit; it’s dependent upon outside factors and isn’t lasting.  Conversely, Joy is less about the circumstances and more about the choice that you consciously make in the midst of said circumstances.  While happiness generally comes from something temporal, joy tends to be rooted firmly in the transcendent.  C.S. Lewis once wrote: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world”  This may be the most philosophical and theological use of Occam’s Razor I’ve ever encountered.  Along similar lines Lewis also wrote:  “We are half-hearted creatures fooling around with drink, sex, and ambition when infinite Joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased”.

It’s interesting that Lewis links the idea of Joy – something he equates with longing and the German literary idea of the Blue Flower that also appears in the Nolan Batman films – with the sea.  In literary works by both Lewis and Tolkien the sea is something that is linked to transcendence, to eternity.  Lewis discusses this through Reepicheep longing for Aslan’s country after sailing to the edge of the world in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and via the old Greek in Till We Have Faces who fancies to return to his homeland across the sea.  Tolkien often links the sea with the Elves and their desire to sail to the Grey Havens, forever leaving the realm of Middle Earth once their time has ended (a destination that, readers later learn isn’t just for elves).  While temporal happiness may be like a mud pie and Joy more so like a holiday by the sea, I’d go as far as to say that Joy is the closest we may get in the here and now to what Tolkien described as the “sea of silver glass and the white sores of a far greener country” in Return of the King or what Lewis called “the far greater country” in The Last Battle.  For both these men, this understanding oh happiness and Joy was rooted in their deep faith in Jesus Christ.

A recent post on Jon Acuff’s blog pointed to a insightful tweet from musician John Mayer on Twitter:  “Congratulations on being successful, and best wishes on becoming happy”.  By all accounts it should have read “congratulations on becoming successful and best wishes on being happy” but it didn’t.  I think Mayer knows something about the truth behind his tweet, that success and things don’t bring happiness and that we are far too easily pleased – in the short term – chasing  things that will.  It’s something the gentleman who was the catalyst for this post hasn’t grasped yet, and even if he was given his personal make-your-own sundae bar it isn’t the happiness he’s searching for, and he’ll go about his business and move along…move along until, like Lewis, he’s Surprised by Joy.



Posted on by Aaron in Uncategorized

About Aaron

Author, Speaker, and Super Nerd. Aaron Welty speaks and writes regularly connecting the dots of life, faith, and science fiction. Originally from Michigan, he now lives and works in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.

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