Why I’ll Teach My Children to Value Joy Over Happiness

My husband and I had come to the end of a long and exhausting interaction with one of our children. Nothing was definitively settled. We weren’t certain that most of what we’d talked about was heard, much less processed. After a few carefully chosen sentences by my husband that conveyed both love and a willingness to let our child take it from there, he and I knew it was time to get up and peacefully walk away. And so we did.

I wouldn’t describe what I was feeling in that moment as happiness. No. It wasn’t that. While I was certain we’d handled the situation with a decent balance of grit and grace, there was too much still left in the balance for the go-luckiness of happy.

But ironically, what I felt was better than happy. As my husband and I crossed paths a few minutes later in the upstairs hallway, our eyes met and we recognized between us a sense of quiet joy. Weird, right? Joy?

But yes, joy.

Intrigued, I sat down and thought about it, about this surprising sense of joy…

At its best, it is unexpected. Certainly joy lives in the big, bright, wondrous moments. But, most importantly, it can be found in the dark ones, too. Joy is a gift, a friend that is brave and honest and comes alongside you if you let it and says, “hey, look at the good here.” Joy is rooted in virtue… hope, courage, resilience, integrity, compassion. It illuminates the beauty within brokenness and helps you not only to be grateful for it, but pushes you to believe/hope/fight for more of it.  Joy is the truest form of optimism.

Happiness, on the other hand, seems a bit flimsy, doesn’t it? A bit fickle. And fleeting.

If happiness is the equivalent of picking up and bringing home a bouquet of beautiful fresh cut flowers from the florist, joy is the equivalent of walking into the shower after a grueling few hours of tilling the garden and letting the sweat and dirt give way to cleanliness and rest. It is the knowledge of having cultivated something good, given it your due diligence, and not having walked away.

Why did my husband and I share a sense of quiet joy? Not because what we’d done was easy. It was hard. And not because it was resolved. It wasn’t. But we’d shown up, and loved, and drawn a line, and loved some more, and then knew when it was time to walk away and let our child decide how to move forward. No guarantees of the outcome we desire; that’s not part of the deal. But joy in knowing we’d done right, and that’s what’s best for the long haul.

And so is my resolve strengthened: In the happiness-craving culture in which we live, I will do my best not only to continue to seek and embrace joy, but to help my children do the same. Because life is hard, and I need them to know that even in the brokenness there is something really good to expect and respond to.

Happiness can’t hold a candle to that.



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2 Replies to “Why I’ll Teach My Children to Value Joy Over Happiness”

  1. How do you do it? You speak directly to my heart, just what I need to hear when I need to hear it. My joy today was realized in a moment of “progress not perfection”. I witnessed my daughters discomfort, hard work, grit, naming the struggle and finding the courage to move forward… this morning was not perfect, but it was progress and I found joy in the progress.

    1. @KarMSR, then I guess we both needed the same thing at the same time, because I was writing this from a place of experiencing it in that moment and needing to get a better understanding of where I could find joy in it. There IS comfort in numbers; thank you for sharing with me that this spoke to your heart, too.

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