Joy to the World.
Comfort and joy.
Joy. Merry. Happy.
We hear and see those words and greetings everywhere this time of year, but what do they really mean and do we really know how to express them, possess them, and produce them?
Merriam-Webster defines “merry” as full of gaiety or high spirits and marked by festivity. It is also defined as full of cheerfulness, festively joyous, happy, mirthful, and joyous in disposition or spirit.
So, if you’re merry are you automatically full of joy and happy? Not always. Not even during these happy holidays.
Come to find out that there’s a big difference between happy and joyful. “Happy” is external while “joyful” is internal. We often base happiness on situations, events, people, places, and things but joy is a cultivated spiritual quality based solely on being at peace with who you are, where you are, and why you are.
Joy is an emotion of well-being while happiness is a state of contentment. Joy carries with it no burdens or expectations while happiness is usually attached to goals and desires. Happiness is a destination but joy is an attitude. In the end, happiness is future oriented and joy is present in the present. Truth be told, we will never be happy unless we are joyful.
But how do we get there? How do we live a joyful life and be joyful?
First of all, stop overlooking the simple pleasures and joys in life. The little things are really big things so be grateful for all the so-called insignificant things in your life because the more you practice gratitude, the more you will experience joy.
That big house on the hill or designer bag might make you temporarily happy but it’s the little things that bring true joy. Things like how my dogs look at me, the Christmas cards and notes I got from parents of my students, and binge watching The Crown with my daughter and husband this Christmas. Maybe it’s things like having a car to get you places, having clean running water, or health of body and mind. Even things like umbrellas, hearing a favorite song, and cozy robes can spur on joy.
I recently experienced four quick days of joy when I joined my sisters-in-law, niece, and daughter in New York City to see the tree, lights, windows, and everything NYC Christmas. I’d never been to New York during Christmas and felt joy the whole “bucket List” trip. I’m still pinching myself and will be forever grateful.
Speaking of New York, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, Gretchen Rubin, is currently blogging “Five Things Making Me Happy This Week” and I’m loving it. Again, it’s the simple things. Things like seeing Christmas trees for sale on the streets of NYC. Yep Gretchen, I agree.
Funny thing is, is that Joy is one of the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit, which demonstrate the presence of God at work in us. Through the Fruit of Joy, we have an abiding sense of well-being, we accept things in a more positive manner, and we are not focused on changing ourselves or things around us.
There lies the challenge, as society is all about change and changing. We choose elective surgery to change our looks. We take drugs to change our minds. We go on crazy and sometimes unhealthy diets to change our bodies. It’s all labeled as the pursuit of happiness but where does obsession begin and happiness end?
Any pursuit of material or superficial things won’t bring a lifetime of happiness but instead a fleeting moment of satisfaction. Happiness as a whole is fleeting. It is based on momentary pleasures. Joy on the other hand endures and comes from loving our one beautiful life.
Another way we can cultivate joy is to be a person who is a source of joy to others. What greater joy is there is than giving someone that perfect Christmas gift or helping someone who is struggling or down?
Here’s another idea: write down one thing you think won’t make you happy but is the right thing to do then go do it. Afterwards, write down how you got joy out of it in spite of your pre-conceived unhappiness and unwillingness. Scatter joy people!
But why do we say “merry” Christmas when most other holidays we say “happy?” Happy Birthday. Happy Easter. Happy Hanukkah.
Back in the 1300s the word “merry” was interchangeable with agreeable, peaceful, and pleasant and “make merry” was a common expression. The “Merry Month of May” became popular in the 1500s and a letter from an English admiral in 1699 is said to have used the term “Merry Christmas” for the first time. Queen Elizabeth II didn’t like the word “merry” however, and refused to use it. Today, the royal family still says “Happy Christmas” in all their official holiday greetings. Don’t tell Charles Dickens though, as he used “Merry Christmas” in “A Christmas Carol” back in 1843 and the first ever Christmas card, pictured above, used the now popular phrase.
This is all very interesting and well and good, but what if we’re not so happy and not very merry. What if our life has sadness or pain? How do we possibly find joy much less scatter it? As hard and seemingly impossible and it might seem and feel, we can still find joy somewhere, somehow. Even at Christmas.
A co-worker recently lost her niece and shared something said at her funeral that I found both moving and eye-opening. “This Christmas,” she told us, “may not be a true “merry” Christmas, but it’s still Christmas.” Yes, it is. It’s still a celebration of our Lord being born and becoming one of us. He feels our pain and took our pain. Let’s take just a moment to thank Him and gratefully praise His birth. Even in the midst of our pain.
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I hope you are surrounded by glad tidings and cheer, comfort and joy, and that you have not only a very merry Christmas and happy holidays, but truly joy-filled ones as well.
Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!