Joy and Happiness, Evolution, Money

Joy, part 1

I do believe there’s a difference between happiness and joy. A British website called psychologies explains it this way:
“Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.” ("Joy vs Happiness," 2015 Sep 1)
OK. Joy comes from a place of peace – peace with who you are, peace with your world. Happiness often comes from a place of excitement.

But if you think of happiness as not just a moment of happiness, but the overall happiness of your life, then you’re getting a good measure of joy. Joy may be different from happiness, but if you’re unhappy, it's hard to be joyful. In fact, if you’re unhappy, you don’t really have a heart filled with peace, hope, faith, or love either. For that reason, it seems OK to go ahead and take happiness as a proxy for joy – understanding that we’re not talking about the momentary happiness from momentary circumstances, but your overall norm of cheerfulness about your life. The more you cultivate happiness, the more you’ll also at least contribute to cultivating the abiding joy that is a fruit of the spirit.

So how do you cultivate happiness and joy? Oh, I thought you’d never ask. OK, so maybe you didn’t ask. Either way, that’s the question I have been answering for you week after week for more than three years: the "Practice of the Week" posts describe practices for cultivating joy. But before I talk about that, I want to set the stage with a couple items that came to my attention in the news this week. One of them illustrates that challenge – why it’s hard to be joyful, why it takes intentional work. The other illustrates that our most common strategy isn’t all that relevant.

First, the challenge. It takes intentional practice to cultivate joy because evolution has designed us to be a little bit unhappy. A little unhappiness gave our hunter-gatherer ancestors a better chance of surviving and reproducing. They needed to be focused on dangers and problems and competition. We have inherited that tendency. This news item from just this week about that was about was about Homo Naledi, a human relative unknown before bones were discovered in South Africa in 2015. It took a while to get a good measurement on the age of the bones, but on Tue May 9 it was revealed that they are roughly 236,000 years old. That’s a lot more recent than the original guess that had them at about 2 million years old. It means that homo sapiens – us – and homo naledi were living at the same time. We already knew that Neanderthals were living at the same time as homo sapiens. Now we know that Homo Naledi was also among the competing homo species – and that only homo was equipped to win. The article I saw concluded with this observation:
“We are a competitive, resource-gobbling species today, and the new research helps confirm that, for better or for worse, we always have been.” (Time Magazine, 2017 May 11)
We evolved to really want to get stuff, to out-compete others at getting more of it. That’s the recipe that brought us into existence and allowed us to survive, but it’s not a recipe for happiness. The circuitry of anxiety and stress and continual acquisition that improved survival among our ancestors is no longer functional for us, so we need ways to override that circuitry. So that’s why it takes intentional focus – because we’re rewiring our circuitry to override aspects of our evolutionary default.

The other news item this week has to do with our usual strategy for making our life better: earn more money. On the one hand, there is such a thing as not enough. It’s hard to be happy amidst the insecurities of extreme poverty – not impossible, but hard, and it takes a rare level of spiritual attainment. On the other hand, there is also such a thing as too much, as when too much of our life is spent tending to finances and too little on the things that really make life joyful. For those of us without the level of spiritual attainment that makes abject poverty acceptable, how much is enough? There seems to be some geographic variation on that. A recent Gallup study looked at how income affects people’s daily emotions in 12 U.S. metro areas.
  • In Atlanta, the annual salary that correlates with peak happiness is $42,000.
  • In Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, and Wahsington, DC, it’s $54,000.
  • In Boston and Houston, the annual salary that correlates with peak happiness is $75,000.
  • In New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Los Angeles, it’s $105,000. (Time, 2017 May 8)
Interesting! That’s the peak – so people who made less than that as well as people who made more than that weren’t as happy. But, of course, that’s the general population – people that aren’t particularly doing the work to cultivate happiness. Do the work and you can override the circuitry of unhappiness with less than the salary correlating with peak happiness. (Or, for that matter, with more.)

So, what does this work look like? I have had a lot to say about that in the “Practice of the Week” posts I started posting on the CUUC Matters website back in 2014. Almost every week in your E-Communitarian newsletter (links to which are posted on our Facebook page HERE) you’ll find a title of a practice, a brief blurb, and a link to the full description. As of this writing, there are 127 different posts at cucmatters.org describing various ways to cultivate joy, and there are new ones still coming most weeks. Many of them overlap, and a few of them are the same practice, explained in, I hope, a helpfully different way.

NEXT: About the practices.

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This is part 1 of 3 of "Joy"
See also
Part 2: Joy Practice
Part 3: The Three Base Practices for Joy
On Joy
On the Journey: 2017 May: Joy

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