Joy and Happiness

During a recent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in Blue Cliff Monastery, I learned about the difference between joy and happiness.

Generating joy and cultivating happiness are key elements to the practice of mindfulness. And while these feelings usually go hand-in-hand, they are two separate states - so what is the difference?

Thay often references the Buddhist story of a traveler crossing the desert. Hot and thirsty from his journey, he comes across a lake among a circle of trees in the distance. When he finally reaches this oasis he kneels down, cups the water in his hands, and drinks.

In feeling joy, there is a level of excitement. When the traveler first sees the pond, although still suffering from thirst, he is joyful and hopeful because he is only steps away from quenching his thirst. When he arrives and drinks, he is nourished by the water. The initial excitement has subsided, but he is left with a calm fulfillment. This is happiness.

Focusing on your suffering is not the only way to heal - this is only one route. Instead, if you realize the possibility of happiness in the here and now, joy will light that pathway between suffering and happiness.

So next time you find yourself stressed over your workload or unhappy with your health, acknowledge your suffering but realize its impermanence. If you envision happiness through decreased stress or improved health, begin to make the necessary changes to embark on that journey. Even by sneaking-in the simplest elements of mindful breathing, eating, or moving you will experience results. Realize the joy in your progress and the hope and excitement it brings, and you too will reach your oasis of happiness.

Photo courtesy of flickr user david_shankbone.