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  • Writer's pictureApril Nunes Tucker

Not just semantics: Go for Joy!

When I was asked to write “on happiness” for Unity Studios blog my first thought was, “that will be easy. I’m quite a happy person.” Yet, as I looked deeper I realized that the idea of being happy has a lot of pressure attached to it. We are desperate to be happy and seek it in all sorts of avenues. Jack Kornfield, an established meditation teacher in the US writes about how we have learned to sense ourselves as identified with our cravings. He says (2002:27) “We often believe our own happiness can come only from possessing something or can be only at someone else’s expense.” Perhaps it is our insatiable desire, our dissatisfaction with the present moment that keeps us unhappy.

Stephen Levine, who wrote a wonderful book called A Year to Live: How to live this year as if it were your last says, “Even though ‘happiness’ is something of a superstition, joy is our birthright” (1997:97).

But what’s the difference? Happiness, joy…are they not the same thing?

In order to differentiate, I began to think about how I use the term ‘happiness’ in daily life. For example, I have said to my husband, “I just want you to be happy.” As a child I said it to my father and my father said it to me. The interesting precursor to this seemingly good intention is, “I want”.

Again, smacked with desire.

The underlying implication being: how you are, as you are now, isn’t how I want you to be.

Again, dissatisfaction.

My Yin yoga teacher Norman Blair (2016:120) writes, “Research has shown that out of living in a sunny climate, getting a pay raise or happy relationships, it is the third – happy relationships – that make us the most fulfilled.”

We all want to be fulfilled. We all want to be happy; but ironically, there seems to be a lot of misery-making stress around happiness. How then, if we use “wanting happiness” in relationships as an example, do we take the pressure off the desire to be happy all the time and shift our intentions into just be-ing with one another. Maybe in just be-ing we can find joy, without forcing it, without seeking it, without trying for it.

Maybe joy will just emerge as we settle into be-ing with other another.

For me, ‘joy’ feels a bit more immediate than ‘happiness’. Happiness is something I strive for (it’s a low grade striving but striving nonetheless). Joy creeps up on me in moments when I don’t expect it, when I’m not trying. This is my experience.

I get glimpses of joy in meditation, in stroking my cat, in holding my children…

Go for joy and maybe you’ll be less disappointed! :)


Blair, N. (2016). Brightening Our Inner Skies: Yin and Yoga. MicMacMargins, UK.

Kornfield, J. (2002). A Path With Heart. Bantam Books, USA

Levine, S. (1997)

Merleau-Ponty, M.(1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London, New York: Routledge

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