Is Your Family Seeking Pleasure, Happiness or Joy?

What do you want most for your children? Really think about it for a minute…(Are you thinking?) I’ve heard a lot of parents say what they really want more than anything is for their children to be happy. To that response, I ask, really? Is the pursuit of personal happiness really the best and highest calling for your child? What are you seeking for yourself—pleasure, happiness, maybe joy? What do these even mean?

Of course I don’t want my children to be unhappy, but to be honest, sometimes a little unhappiness is necessary for them to understand a lesson and to grow as people. The same goes for me, unfortunately. I don’t think we should expect to be happy all the time. Stress, illness and death are part of life. Work and sacrifice can be good qualities, but aren’t particularly pleasant. If we teach our children to pursue only happiness, why would they want to help others when it is inconvenient? Why would they strive to impact the world in a positive fashion? That just takes their focus off of their goal of happiness.

Interestingly, the happiest couples I have interviewed have been the ones who are truly seeking to make their spouse happy before themselves. It’s a cycle and a process that continues to reward each of them.

Pleasure is often a good thing—enjoying the scent of the flowering trees as you drive by, tasting the grilled salmon that you craved for dinner, touching your spouse or children lovingly, hearing the sound of the birds outside your kitchen window. Opening our senses to feel and truly experience pleasure is wonderful.

Pleasure can also be very self-serving. A popular web site (whose name I won’t promote) calls itself “the world’s premier discreet dating service” and has a trademarked tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair.” They promise, “Join free, and change your life today. Guaranteed!” Yes, your life will be changed, but not for the better. Their invitation to “Sleep with someone else’s wife tonight,” may entice those whose ultimate goal is personal pleasure. But will these exclusive members experience happiness or joy?

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, describes joy as a “technical term that must be sharply distinguished from both Happiness and Pleasure.” He says, “The only thing Joy has in common with the others is that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” Where Joy differs, he continues, is that anyone who has tasted joy would never exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. “But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” Yes, there’s the rub, joy we have to wait for, and pleasure (and even happiness to some extent) we can go in search of.

Joy, I think, is a much deeper satisfaction, bliss, the opposite of misery and regret, a connection to the divine. It’s not really within our power, but I think it can result from a multitude of right choices, even of self-sacrifice and love for others. It seems sort of counter-intuitive that by not prioritizing your own pleasure, you can achieve a deeper enjoyment, but I think it’s true. That’s not to say pleasure can’t still be a part of your life, but there are higher priorities.

In your marriage, in your financial decisions, in how you raise and instruct your children, what do you think is most important for them to learn? Where do you hope to lead your spouse and family, and what example will you show? I wish you Joy.

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6 responses to “Is Your Family Seeking Pleasure, Happiness or Joy?

  1. I agree. I believe to truly know joy you must also know pain, to have reward, first know sacrifice.
    I don’t think you can know one without the other.

  2. theguyoutsidethewalls

    I really like your reference to the difference between “happiness” and “joy.” There is indeed a difference. Staying focused on what really matters in life is, indeed what brings us a sense of joy and meaning in life!

  3. It is also interesting how C.S. Lewis points out that sometimes the desire (itself) for something can in a sense be more joyful than the gratification of that desire. This leads me to believe that humanity has a need for novelty, resulting in a profound propensity toward boredom. Hence all the affairs, mid-life crisis, and endless consumption. I also believe we were intentionally designed this way. There is only one source of true satisfaction for our need of novelty (ironically). God who is infinite…there is no end to Him. He is such a mysterious source of joy–we can be completely lost in Him and be relieved of our longing and desire for novelty, and yet still remain in that place of joyful and exciting desire for more.

  4. Pingback: The Better Half « Life Gems

  5. Pingback: Why More Americans are Happy, Yet Unsatisfied | Marriage Gems

  6. Am greatly inspired by this. Thank you.

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