Tag Archives: joy

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.

How Does Happiness Spread?

“Come On, Get Happy!” Do you remember this 1970 theme song from the Partridge Family? I guarantee it will put a smile on your face if you spend 30 seconds on YouTube to hear it again. I dare you not to sing along. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40egogo4kcY

It’s what came into my mind as I read recent results of a 20-year study on how our social network impacts our happiness. One highlight is that happy people tend to be connected to other happy people, and geographical closeness is important.

It reports that we are affected by the happiness of others in our network, up to three degrees of separation. So, if our friend’s friend “gets happy” then we are more likely to be as well. Interestingly, the number of happy friends you have affects you more than the number of unhappy friends, so don’t feel like you have to dump all your sad friends to stay happy. Each new happy friend you have increases your likelihood of happiness, but a new unhappy friend has little or no effect.

What I found most interesting is the groups of people who affect us most. When our spouse becomes happier, it increases our odds of becoming happier by only 8%. When our next door neighbor becomes increasingly happy, it increases our odds by 35%. A mutual friend trumps them all when she becomes happier, increasing the probability you’ll be happy by a whopping 63%.  Happiness also seems to spread more readily via the same gender. How happy our coworkers are doesn’t seem to affect us one way or another.

Even though many people spend more time at work with than family, I don’t think they are as invested in those relationships in the way we are with friends. Of course, some people don’t even like their coworkers or are competitive with them, so we may not be pleased when they succeed.  As for the neighbors and friends part, why do you think they affect us more than spouses? I believe we put on a happy face for many of those around us, sharing good news and wishing others well. But when we come home, we don’t always save the best, most joyous part of ourselves for those in our own home. We’re tired. We’ve had a long day. We have a to-do list on which to focus. Our spouses may be used to our ups and downs and may not pay a lot of attention to our feelings or reports of our day.

Perhaps it’s a good reminder for us to really be present for our spouses, family and friends, our neighbors, and yes, even our coworkers. We should share in their joys—and pick them up when they’re down. Sing them a happy tune from the ‘70s. You might make your friend’s friend happy tomorrow.

For study details go to http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec04_2/a2338.