Joy is not quite the same as happiness. Happiness is an enduring mood state (sometimes called “well-being” or contentment) and comes to rest over time on those who have learned from Jesus how to live “the good life” laid out in Scriptural wisdom and empowered by God’s Spirit (see The Lost Virtue of Happiness by Biola professors Klaus Issler and JP Moreland).

Joy, however, is a more occasional emotion, but for that reason quite powerful, a sudden flare of goodness in our sight. It is even commanded in Scripture, which means there’s something we can do to find it—or at least be found by it. Of course, joy is also a gift from God. But many of the gifts that bring joy have already been given to us. What we need to do is to RETURN, and in particular, to return to others.

Joy is all about connection, says psychologist Rev. Dr. Joanna Collicutt. “It is a profoundly social emotion,” and arises especially when we return, reconnect, and reunite with those who are life-giving for us. (Hence the joy children find in “peek-a-boo.”) Next time you’re at the airport, go to “Arrivals” and watch the reunion joy happening all around you.

We see this joy in the reunions of Scripture: the father’s joy at the return of his ”prodigal” son (Luke 15:11ff.); the disciples’ great joy in seeing the risen Jesus (Matt 8:28); Paul’s joy throughout the NT when he reunites with brothers and sisters or even anticipates these reunions (e.g. Acts. 15:3; 2 Tim. 1:4).

Try these “returns” in your own life:

  • Who is it that has been life-giving for you? Don’t wait to run into them. Get them on the calendar and regularly. They are gifts of joy to you.
  • Say “yes” to those small gatherings, reunions or invitations. Those who are shy or introverted may especially be reluctant at the social energy these require, but any time friends or even acquaintances gather is a chance to find joy.
  • Contact someone you know whom you know loves you. Their joy at reconnecting may be contagious
  • Join a church and stick with it. These weekly returns, connections and the relationships that form from them are worth the effort (and yes, sometimes pain) and are meant to be the bedrock of your joy.
  • Return to meditate on Scriptures that have been meaningful and encouraging to you.
  • Return to God, especially in the midst of your limits. Many of us feel inadequate much of the time given the demands of modern life and the unrealistic expectations we absorb from the media. Often our immediate response is to determine to “do better,” “do more,” and “be more.” But super humanness is not what God requires. In those moments of inadequacy, make your first move to “rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 3:1) and particularly, his acceptance of you today. Start a mental habit: whenever you feel your only response is to do more or do better to lift you from your sadness, first return to the Lord’s acceptance of you today, right now, where you’re at. Have something tangible at hand to remind you of the “good news”--that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, you live from acceptance, not for acceptance. Some people wear a cross under their shirt, or have one on their keychain, and touch these to remind them of their identity in Christ. Write “Beloved,” or “God’s child” on your hand to remember that God’s “grace is sufficient for you” when you feel insufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).

Make a regular habit of return in your life, letting these practices recall you to joy.