Joy is inexorably linked with Christmas. From the angels who brought ‘good tidings of great joy’ to the shepherds, and the wise men ‘rejoicing with exceeding great joy’ when they first saw the star of Bethlehem, we are told of the deep meaning of this festival. From our mantelpieces, cards often bearing the single word: JOY contain festive greetings from friends and family afar. I must admit that from the bars of those first cheesy songs on the radio telling us that ‘we wish it could be Christmas every day’ to the sentimental adverts on the television, I love it all. I carry memories from childhood of this wonderful time, not so much of the presents, as it happens, but of the simple traditions in our home: visiting the crib scene in the local village each week and finding another character had appeared; the excitement of that sense of the world stopping for family time and one especially wonderful Christmas Eve, when my sister and I were around six and two years old. We were already in bed, splendid in new pink and white checked pyjamas, when my father did what should never be done on such an exciting night – he woke his sleeping children up. He carried us both to the window to see the lightly falling snow – ‘Look carefully,’ he said, ‘You might not a white Christmas again for a long time.’ More than fifty years on, I am still waiting for snow to fall again yet the sense of joy cultivated by our memories and shared times holds a far deeper, more magical sense than mere happiness.
Joy and happiness are terms which are often considered interchangeable but the difference between them is actually considerable. Happiness is an emotion that is dependent on external circumstances, with its effects short-lasting. The Dalai Lama likens happy feelings to ‘butterflies which land on us and then flutter away.’ Whilst humans pursue happiness, the circumstances which give rise to these emotions, such as a good day at school or your team winning an important match, generally only offer fleeting satisfaction. In looking for happiness in the things which happen to us, we may experience disappointment, or at least the moment of emotional uplift is likely to be temporary.
Joy is a much deeper feeling of contentment that grows over a lifetime and is found from looking within oneself. Rather than being about getting what you want in the moment, joy can endure even in the face of challenge and frustration – as seen through the examples of great humanitarians such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Joy is about nurturing lasting contentment and inner peace; it is about making choices and striving for meaningful experience.
So, whilst happiness and excitement abound as present lists are written and the anticipation of the festive season builds, take time to value most highly the truly joyous moments: small children in their nativity play; singing together as a community; a beautiful soloist in Church or the uplifting brass bands in the street. With the newspapers full of the challenges of the world, we hope you find joy in time with your friends and family, the giving and the sharing- Merry Christmas, everyone!