Ode To Joy

I have three deeply held values in my life…beauty, love and joy. So when I happened upon a recent commentary by Douglas Todd exploring the differences between the emotion of joy and happiness I wanted to share it with you.


Todd quotes the Dalai Lama saying “the purpose of our lives is to seek happiness,” which he sometimes calls Joy. Thich Nhat Hahn, another Buddhist teacher, occasionally tries to make a distinction by saying “if you are very thirsty and you see a glass of water, you will experience joy. But after drinking the water you will experience happiness.” I get that – I feel that way when I first see a loved one’s face after a long separation.

Todd also writes, “Famed psychiatrist, Georges Valliant offers a rare, brilliant essay on joy in his book Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith. In his chapter on joy, Vaillant starts out by clarifying that happiness is “secular,” “cognitive” and “tame.” In contrast, Vaillant says joy is “spiritual,” “a primary emotion,” and “connection to the universe…Joy is laughing from the gut.” I get that too – deep belly laughter is like tonic for my soul and fills me with an emotion far greater than a static sense of happiness.

At this time of year I find joy in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – the beauty of the music and the voices in the choir evokes a sense of spiritual transformation and connection with the mystery of life. Which is exactly what the composer intended when he wrote it. Succinctly said by both Vaillant and restated by Todd, “It is so much easier to sing about joy than to talk about it.”