Can Change Bring Happiness?

By Katie, 5:14 am

I have spent a lot of time in my life counting on a change to make me happy.

When my weight changes, THEN I’ll be happy. When I switch jobs, THEN I’ll be happy. When I get that new car/house/outfit/promotion, THEN I’ll be happy.

Guess what? I sort of believe that certain changes like that can indeed bring us happiness. They cannot, however, bring us joy.

The way I see it, happiness is variable and fleeting. It goes up and down based on our external circumstances, on what’s going on in our lives at any particular moment. In other words, all of those superficial changes we desire probably can bring us a certain degree of happiness for a certain span of time.

But joy is another story. Joy is steady and constant. It’s an unwavering sense of contentment and peace, and it doesn’t depend on if our circumstances at the moment are easy or difficult. Even when we’re unhappy, we can still feel the sense of peace and safety and hope that comes with joy.

There was a time I thought that losing weight or changing jobs or moving to a new city would make me happy. And actually, many of those things did happen and they did have an impact on my happiness levels.

But what I was actually searching for through all of those changes wasn’t happiness at all; it was joy. Now I realize that joy can never be created by a change in the external; it comes from a deep transformation of the internal. It has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with our perspective. It can withstand both the good and the bad changes that come our way in life.

Understanding this fundamental difference between happiness and joy means that I can pursue changes in life that I know will be positive for me without relying on them for my ultimate fulfillment.  I can withstand the ups and downs of my happiness while constantly maintaining a deeper level of joyful satisfaction.

When we focus solely on happiness, we can become prisoners to the next change in our lives. We’re constantly waiting for this to change or that to happen. But when we instead turn towards joy, we can anticipate changes with excitement without requiring them to sustain us.

Can you relate to my experience of waiting for something to change in order to be happy?

What do you think the difference between happiness and joy is?

This post was written as part of the Self Discovery, Word by Word series. This month we’re exploring the word “change.” Check out this post on Medicinal Marzipan for full details, including how you can participate too!

27 Responses to “Can Change Bring Happiness?”

  1. Simple.

    Happiness comes from the outside . . .

    Joy comes frome within . . .


  2. Shannon says:

    As I was doing a devotional the other morning, I read ‘happiness comes from happenings, but joy comes from Christ.’ That is the difference between the two for me.

  3. Kelly says:

    My mom always used to tell me not to have the “I’ll be happy when…” mentality because then you are never happy now. Best advice ever.

  4. I think change brings happiness in that, if it’s something we’ve decided to DO: blog more, learn Italian, exercise regularly, there’s a sense of pride and self-satisfaction when we follow through and do “well” (whatever that is!)

    The downside is, if we “fail” at a task we’ve set ourselves, or experience some backsliding, we tend to beat up on ourselves. We need to find ways to be joyful and content, whether we “succeed” at some change we’ve decided to bring about, or make slower progress than we think we “should.”

  5. I like your distinction between happiness and joy. Makes sense! I have always had a problem with thinking I will be happy when I lose weight, which just isn’t the case.

  6. Nicole., RD says:

    I love Val and Shannon’s comments. As someone who isn’t entirely happy in their most “full time” job, this is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. A timely and perfect post, Katie!

  7. McKella says:

    I definitely relate to waiting for something to make me happy. It’s like I spend all my time living in the future, because in the future I’m happy for some reason, because I have my dream career, or I live on the beach or whatever. Some changes have made me happy, like my recent move. My definitions of happiness and joy are actually the opposite of yours; I think of joy as something in the moment, like a smile, but happiness is an actual state of being. That’s just me, but I understand what you’re saying. It’s funny how different people use different words.

    • Katie says:

      It is! Like you say, it sounds like our perspectives are the same, just the words are different. Thanks for sharing your view! :)

  8. Yep…what Val said :-) And I can definitely relate to the idea of waiting for change in order to be happy…I spent much of my life in that mode and have thus learned that change does not equal happiness…and it certainly does not equal joy! Great post!

    I have a whole post of my own coming on “change.”

  9. bubu says:

    Beautiful post, it really got me thinking. I love the idea that joy is “an unwavering sense of contentment and peace.” I think I always thought of joy as a Joy-to-the-World, trumpets blaring, shouting it from the rooftops sort of thing, like a really hyped-up and caffeinated happy… but your alternative defintion really resonates. I also think we, esp in the west, prize that crazed sort of happiness/joy too much, and give short shrift to peace and serenity, whereas I think these are the true foundation of joy AND happiness. (I highly recommend “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a buddhist monk with ideas and exercises for achieving internal peace and mindfulness in daily life, it really resonates with me and has given me a lot of great tools).
    I also realized your distinction perfectly captures how I feel about my children: they definitely don’t make me happy all the time (sometimes just the opposite!) but overall they give me great joy. And though they are technically outside of me, kids, especially small kids, are very much a part of you. I wonder if sometimes when people have or contemplate having kids they are expecting happiness, rather than joy, and that can lead to a lot of frustration and anxiety.

    • Katie says:

      While I can’t say for sure because I’m not a mother (yet!), I think correlating your love for your children with happiness vs. joy is spot-on. What a great lens through which to understand it!

  10. Tiffany says:

    Hey Katie! I just want to give you a big “thank you!” for posting this. Today I am grappling with a decision that I need to finalize in the next two days, grappling with “will this make me happy for now, or is my current situation not that bad?”

    I am always saying, I need to find another job (b/c my current job is not what I want for my entire career). The problem is, what I want to do is ENTIRELY outside of my career, what I went to college for, etc. However, it is not financially feasable for me to start my dream career immediately. I also struggle with being “happy” at my job each day, relying on everything else that makes me happy in life to get through. I have another amazing opportunity, still in the field I do not want to be in forever, which, until I read your post I thought would make me happy. However, will I really be happy? It’s not what I want to do. Should I just stay where I am until I can begin the career that will bring me overall joy and happiness in my life? Or should I just start something new for a change that may bring me a little more happiness, until I can begin my dream career?

    After reading your post several times, evaluating my situation, I’m not sure if I am more clear, but it sure was a help evaluating my own happiness vs. joy! Thanks Katie!

    • Katie says:

      So great to hear from you, Tiffany! Wow, you really are in a tough situation. Do you have a sense of how long it will be before you can begin pursuing your dream career?

      Best of luck these next few days with finalizing your decision. And when in doubt, trust your gut instinct. :)

  11. Dave says:

    Seriously sage-like wisdom!

  12. Lauren says:

    Wow, beautifully said and so true. It’s like you read my mind and my feelings!

    I am pursuing my dream career, but it’s been over a 6 year process(post BA) of school and working a job that takes all of my mental and physical energy. It’s been really rough. I’ve learned from this experience that I have used food to cope and my body as a punching bag too long. It’s a fall back, if I don’t know how I’m feeling, I just say, “well of course I’m ….. it’s cause I’m fat and need to lose weight”. The restriction/binge cycle is never ending and I’m still trying to get off. I think I’m finally discovering the source of the problem, but it’s scary and the fear of letting go of old behaviors (even though I know they are not helpful). Recovery and self-discovery isn’t pretty all the time! It’s hard work.

    How do you find time to deal with your own recovery in a busy schedule and a job that requires you to give so much of yourself?

    • Katie says:

      Lauren, thanks for this wonderful comment. You certainly have a lot on your plate right now! You’re so right that the process of recovery and self-awareness can be incredibly scary and difficult. Even though my eating issues were a major cause of distress, they were also a huge source of comfort. For a long time I didn’t want to give that up, and the process of finding new, more effective forms of comfort wasn’t easy. But I can definitely say it was worth it in the long run!

      In terms of finding time, I wish I had a simple solution. I’m fortunate in that I’ve found a way to combine a hobby/part-time job with recovery – this blog! In a sense, I use writing as a way of exploring and coaching myself. So it’s two birds with one stone. But honestly, I struggle a lot too. Going for walks is one of my favorite ways to keep balanced, but I have to say that I’ve barely done it over the past month because I’ve been so busy at my full-time job. So I’m a work in progress!

  13. [...] Can Change Bring Happiness? [...]

  14. Croz' says:

    Change is the one constant, therefore we should be constantly happy :-o ) Well, of course not, maybe the experience called joy is a manifestation of a either a desired-for change or event, or such that comes from out of nowhere when least expected where a happy thought or hope unexpectedly becomes real…I believe especially so when it happens for others or in such a place we feel so deserving of it.

    “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

  15. [...] Health For the Whole Self, Change: Happiness or Joy? [...]

  16. Danny says:

    I have researched, discussed, and thought about this very subject for years now and am about to embark on writing a book about it. You all are so very right about many of the attributes that differentiate happiness from joy. Most importantly you understand that happiness is temporary, fleeting, unpredictable, and dependent on so many things outside ourselves and completely beyond our control. Joy on the other hand is eternal, durable, predictable, and almost totally dependent upon internal controllable things like attitude, love and faith.
    I wish I had the room here to give the true and complete definitions of happiness and joy but I think a short definition would only create more questions than answers in a forum like this. I will suggest a few more differences between the two terms though. Most happiness has to do with “feeling” good (and feeling good about self and about others). Joy has more to do with “being” good, doing good, and becoming all that our Creator (whatever you believe that to be) created us to be. In other words, Joy is fulfilling the full measure of one’s creation… one’s destiny. Happiness is found in changing ourselves into whatever we think we want to become… and changing our surroundings to facilitate that. Joy is found in the discovery of who and what we really are, why we are, and then letting the Universe teach us and develop us into what we were truly created from the very beginning to eventually become. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a state of being.
    I hope that clarified things a little. My book is still a couple of years away so feedback is still timely and very welcome.

    • Katie says:

      Your book sounds very interesting. I’d be curious to read about the connections between happiness/joy and the psychological idea of locus of control. Are our experiences of happiness versus joy in any way tied to the way we view our circumstances, either as within our control or outside of it? I do hope you will come back and share more as your book progresses! I’d love to share it with my blog readers!

      • Danny says:

        The short answer to your question is Yes. Feeling like I am in control of my circumstances, environment, safety, comfort, etc., always feels good and makes me not only feel good directly, but feel good about myself, and that’s a great source of happiness for me. Feeling vulnerable, endangered, or at the mercy of external circumstances always feels bad and makes us anxious, fearful and unhappy. But “control” is only one of many aspects of “feeling good” and therefore of “feeling happy”.
        When I first started researching Happiness (trying to find out what it is and how best to obtain it in my life) I was amazed at how many different ways we can be made to feel happy or unhappy. I listed them and categorized them for over a year until two things finally became apparent: 1) There are about 7 billion people on the planet and about 7 billion different ideas about what will make a person happy… and they are all correct. 2) Happiness is pretty much whatever you want it to be.
        That’s when I decided to stop looking for the causes and sources of happiness and focus on what happiness actually is and the possibility that there might be something better to spend our lives pursuing. I feel confident I now understand what happiness is and what it isn’t. I also understand much about why we are so preoccupied with it (even addicted to it) and hope I can finish my book in time to help get us back on path and on task in our evolutionary journey and free ourselves of our current obsession with things that simply are not important and that totally distract us and get in the way of the things that truly ARE important.
        Besides, every one of us is going to have times of happiness and times of unhappiness in our lives… and there is not a darn thing we can do about a lot of it. Sometimes, even after all we can do, things don’t turn out the way we wanted them to. Even someone who is very experienced and skilled at playing the Happiness Game will have situations where the outcome was mostly determined by plain dumb luck. There are other more accessible, predictable, dependable, and rewarding things to pursue in life than Happiness. And though every one of those “better” things will feel good and will substantially contribute to your happiness, that’s never the reason you should be seeking after them. And that’s really the core message of my book… that Happiness is a gift. If you will think, say and do things for nobler reasons than to make yourself feel good or feel happy (those reason include love, learning, family, community, discovery, faith, and so on) then wonderful gifts of happiness will come to you of their own accord, without any assistance or encouragement from you, and in ways and on levels that you would never imagine possible.
        Another way to put it is that there are two ways to look at your life’s journey. You can be controlling, do it your way, make your own choices as to what happiness is and how you are going to get it, and probably get exactly what you ask for most of the time. Or you can just let yourself be yourself, let the universe teach you what you are, and let it teach you how to be one with it and evolve with it, and then let it give to you all the gifts (happiness, feel-goods, joy, whatever) that it has waited since the first human walked this planet to give to you… gifts far beyond what you could have ever imagined to ask for or want. Who could possibly know better what best gifts to give someone than the entity that created that person in the first place?
        This is terribly oversimplified. The book I’m trying to write develops my logic and my conclusions in a very understandable, almost mathematical way. I don’t just pull stuff out of my hat and say, “Hey, sounds right… so I’m going to assume it is right.” And please don’t think I have a thing against “feel goods”. I don’t. They are the primary reason we are as far evolved as we are today. And I go into great detail to show how all that happened from the very beginning. But I also will try to show how we are now at a crossroads in our evolution, where we are at a place where we can produce “feel goods” instantly, anytime, anyplace, on demand. So their importance as a motivator or stimulus to our taking the next big leap in our evolution is negligible. In fact, “feel goods” now are a major obstacle to humanity’s success as a species. We are running up a huge evolutionary debt to the universe right now that is very soon going to come due… and I can promise you with no fear of mistake, unless we make major immediate changes to the way we treat this planet and treat each other, payback is going to be a royal bitch. Compared to bad times we have experienced in the past 30,000 years, we ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m hoping my book is part of the solution before it’s too late for any solution.
        The initial subject of this discussion was ” Can Change Bring Happiness?” The answer is yes. But the change isn’t out there somewhere, it’s inside each of us. And it can’t be a change intended simply to make us happy, it has to be a change for a higher purpose than that, then the change will bring us the kind of happiness we actually need, not just the happiness we think we want. The biggest tragedy of all would be that the Universe is ready and willing to give us everything, but all we got was a penny because that’s all we thought we could get from her and so that’s all we asked for. Stop chasing happiness. Be good to each other, love each other, and let happiness come to you on its own.

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