My friend and I were walking back from the gym one time when we started talking about the difference between joy and happiness. So many classmates we used to have in college would work hard all week at school and extracurriculars, but then party really hard on the weekends. It actually made it really hard to become closer friends with them, because the drunk version of our friends was not the real version. It didn’t seem like true vulnerability or joy.
So, what’s the difference between joy and pleasure? And why do we choose one over the other? As we kept talking, my friend said, “Happiness ends when the activity ends, but joy can be sustained beyond it.” I thought, this is the key! Sustenance. It’s so true. Pleasure gives a moment of satisfaction, and then we think that is good enough and perhaps even think it’s all we could hope for. For example, I ate way too many donuts on Sunday after I hadn’t had any sweets all week long. Those donuts tasted so good in the moment so I kept eating them, but honestly, after having eaten them, the goodness diminished and I felt sluggish. It’s not that eating donuts is bad, eating one in moderation is a gift that makes me grateful, but it’s a small pleasure in comparison with true joy. It’s hard talking to friends about how drunkenness hurts them and those around them, especially when getting drunk is considered the “thing to do in college” and “it’s not that bad.” So the expectations make it harder to let go of alongside the pleasure moment that lasts during the party but fades quickly afterward. Pleasure ends at the finite.
On the flip side, joy sustains itself because it is of God, who is infinite. Have you ever held a little baby? I was babysitting once, and even when she cried, her pouting face was so cute, I just laughed. I realized that when I cry in front of God, He still delights in me. This reflection makes the moment of babysitting precious and I’m reminded of eternity. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist after truly understanding that is Him—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—Wow! The God of the universe allows Himself to be seen as a small wafer in order that I would not hide from Him and might truly be united to Him. He alone gives me sustaining peace and true joy. It’s like warm sunshine after a cloudy, dreary winter, and yet that image barely scratches the surface of real joy. When we see “all is gift,” and recognize that God is using everything in life for our good, doesn’t that bring a lasting joy, no matter what happens? One friend told me that Jesus experienced joy even in the midst of Calvary and the Crucifixion, because He was doing the Will of the Father. Therefore, it is only in Him and by living out God’s Will that we can find true joy.
In John 10, Jesus says, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” If you pray night prayer, you might also be reminded of the Psalm, “You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine.” This can address so many things too, from gluttony to sexual impurity. We think we want more of something finite because we don’t dare hope that God has something infinite and greater in mind for us. Christopher West says, “Sin involves confusing our desire for the infinite with finite things” (32). We are made for authentic joy. God desires us to be fully alive, and He gave us the gifts of free will and intellect in order to do that. When any person gets drunk, it is essentially throwing away those gifts, because no one can use them properly in that state. And these are good gifts. Free will allows us to make choices of our own—to choose whether to do God’s Will or not. A well-formed intellect allows us to discern what is good and what is not.
The difference can be hard to explain when we do not want to make the effort to change. The decision is ultimately up to the individual and whether they are willing to break the expectations of the world and live in God’s light. We all have this struggle on earth, but when we come together in the sacraments of the Church and prayer, Christ can set us free. St. Ireneus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” As you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, what is going to make you fully alive? We have a St. Pat’s mini-retreat at 10:30am that day in CTK, so come on over and join us for a time of infinite joy.