The theme for our studios this summer as part of our attendance challenge, Dedicate Your Practice, is Joy.  We’ve aptly named it “The Summer of Joy.”  Each week we’ll be exploring a different layer of joy and how we can best cultivate it in our daily lives.

For Week 1, we’re going to examine the nature of joy, how we can define it, and how it is similar but different than its sibling, happiness.  We’ll also point you in the direction of some good summer reads if you want to keep digging.

So what is Joy?

Joy is a potent emotion, characterized by feelings of deep contentment, fulfillment, or pleasure that stem from within. Unlike other positive emotions that may rely heavily on external circumstances, joy is an internal state that can persist regardless of our situation (Fredrickson, 2001). Joy connects us with a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves – be it our spiritual selves, our place in the universe, or our interconnectedness with the world around us (Haidt, 2006).

We may experience joy in moments of stillness and appreciation, through the serene beauty of nature, or in sharing an intimate moment with a loved one. Remarkably, joy can coexist with other emotions, even negative ones, helping us find contentment and peace amidst life’s trials and tribulations (Boniwell, 2012).

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu provide a profound and nuanced understanding of joy, in their book “The Book of Joy” (which just so happens to land on our Summer of Joy reading list – included below). They posit that joy can coexist with a wide range of other emotions, including those perceived as negative, because it’s rooted in the acceptance of all life’s experiences, the good and the challenging alike.

Both leaders stress that joy emerges from compassion and the act of extending kindness to others, connecting us to a sense of common humanity. Ultimately, they advocate that joy can be cultivated through practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and acts of service, allowing us to tap into this profound state of inner peace and contentment even amidst the difficulties of life.

How is Joy different from Happiness?

In the collective human pursuit of well-being, we often find ourselves searching for two core emotions – joy and happiness. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they encompass different aspects of our emotional spectrum.

Happiness, unlike joy, is generally contingent on circumstances, events, or outcomes that satisfy our needs or desires. It tends to hinge on external factors and can be transient, fluctuating with changing conditions. We might feel happy when we achieve a goal, receive a gift, or enjoy a delightful day with friends (Lyubomirsky, 2008).

Joy, on the other hand, is more enduring and isn’t easily disrupted by alterations in external conditions. It resonates on a deeper level, providing a profound sense of fulfillment that isn’t explicitly tied to specific situations or events (Cohn et al., 2009). Notably, unlike happiness, joy can be a deliberate choice or perspective we adopt, enabling us to discover contentment and inner tranquility, even when our plans go awry (Biswas-Diener, 2008).

An Illustrative Analogy of Joy and Happiness

If you’re having difficulty grasping the joy / happiness distinction – you’re not alone.  We hope the following analogy / visualization might help:

Imagine you are standing on the edge of a beautiful, serene lake, with the setting sun casting a golden glow on the water’s surface. Here, happiness is like the bright, radiant sunlight – it’s powerful, visible, and often linked to something specific happening around you, like the setting of the sun. Its warmth washes over you, making you feel good in that moment. However, as the sun sets and the circumstances change, this form of happiness, like the sunlight, can fade away.

Now, consider the lake itself – calm, deep, and persistent. This lake represents joy. It’s always there, even when the sun is not shining on it. It can reflect the sunlight, doubling the happiness when times are good. However, even when the sun sets, the lake doesn’t cease to exist. It’s still there, providing a sense of peace and serenity. Its existence doesn’t depend on the sun; it’s a constant. Even on cloudy days, or when winds whip up the surface, beneath it all, the lake remains the same – calm and tranquil.

The sun and the lake interact with each other, just like happiness and joy. The sunlight can make the lake sparkle with brilliance, just like how external circumstances can trigger our happiness and add to our joy. But even in the absence of the sun, the lake maintains its tranquility, akin to joy persisting even without immediate causes of happiness.

In this sense, happiness and joy share a common origin – our inner emotional world. They’re both positive and desirable states. However, their dependency on external conditions sets them apart. Happiness, like the sun’s reflection, often depends on what’s happening around us. In contrast, joy, much like the lake itself, springs from within and remains with us through the highs and lows of life.

Summer of Joy Reading List:

Want to really dig deep on Joy, both from a spiritual and scientific perspective, we recommend the following three insightful books that delve into the concept of joy and provide practical guidance on fostering it:

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams: This book captures the profound insights on joy from two of the world’s most revered spiritual leaders – Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Their illuminating discussion explores the challenges of life, the nature of true joy, and the ways we can cultivate joy in our daily lives.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” by Ingrid Fetell Lee: This book explores how our physical environment can induce joy.  Drawing from neuroscience and psychology, Lee provides insights into how simple changes in our surroundings can spark a profound sense of joy.

Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Rick Hanson: This book offers practical strategies rooted in neuroscience to cultivate positive experiences and emotions. Hanson explains how we can ‘hardwire’ our brains for lasting joy, inner peace, and confidence.

Understanding and cultivating joy can bring profound benefits to our lives.  As we deepen our yoga and/or Pilates practices at the studios this summer, let’s carry this knowledge with us, embracing joy in its purest form and nurturing it in our hearts.

Remember, the journey to joy is a personal one, full of unique experiences and discoveries. So, take this understanding as a stepping stone, and let your individual journey unfold. Let’s embrace the joy within and around us this summer (and beyond).  Next week we’ll start moving from the “what” to the “how” so and we hope you’ll continue with us on our Joy Ride!


  1. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American psychologist, 56(3), 218.
  2. Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. Basic Books.
  3. Boniwell, I. (2012). Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: The Science of Happiness. McGraw-Hill Education.
  4. Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.
  5. Cohn, M. A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M. (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion, 9(3), 361.
  6. Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching: Assessment, Activities and Strategies for Success. John Wiley & Sons.

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