Life, Happiness, & Joy. Cuz one of ’em’s totally fake.

I’m one of these weird writing people that loves math. Seriously. Whereas writing is about the ability to perfectly define with words, math is about perfectly defining with numbers. And, unlike language, it is almost impossible to misconstrue an equation. No marriage has ever been ended because 24x + 14 = 50.

Although math has the ability to define many things, such as the way light moves around the sun or how time functions, it cannot define the abstractions of human emotions. Words define and open up our world. While math can explain why something falls from the sky, only words can make me feel as though I’m falling.

And yet, neither letters or numbers can explain happiness.

We could even consider setting up an equation to define what makes happiness:

3Dogs + 4Kids + 50,000Year – PTAFunctions + Flatscreen = Happy

But, there is no real way to verify results. Happiness differs from person to person, from region to region. One person who has all these things is perfectly content, while another rages at the horrors of his existence.

WLW Features - Kid Sad

We could attempt to define happiness in words. Clark Gesner, lyricist for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” gets the closest, I think:

Happiness is finding a pencil.
Pizza with sausage.
Telling the time.
Happiness is learning to whistle.
Tying your shoe for the very first time.

Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band.
And happiness is walking hand in hand.
Happiness is two kinds of ice cream.
Knowing a secret.
Climbing a tree.
Happiness is five different crayons.
Catching a firefly.
Setting him free.

Happiness is being alone every now and then.
And happiness is coming home again.
Happiness is morning and evening,
Daytime and night time too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.

Happiness is having a sister.
Sharing a sandwich.
Getting along.
Happiness is singing together when day is through,
And happiness is those who sing with you.
Happiness is morning and evening,
Daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.

And yet, even with all of these words, have we gotten to the heart of happiness? We can’t really, can we? Because it is so different for everyone. Consider these questions:

  • Can you be happy alone?
  • Can you be happy with no money?
  • Can you be happy with fame?
  • Can you be happy in prison?
  • Can you be happy without arms?
  • Can you be happy and rich?
  • Can you be happy without friends?
  • Can you be happy without crayons?

If you’re like me, you will emphatically say, “Yes, you can be happy in all those circumstances.” So, then. What defines happiness? If it can’t be truly measured in numbers or words, how can you know if you are a happy person?


I have a friend who remembers almost nothing in her life but moments that are awful – times she was hurt, times she was taken advantage of. She’s not alone, though. We all remember the awful moments with such clarity. I wonder sometimes what it would be like if, after this life, we got all the things we spent the most time remembering. Would that change the way we thought about the past? Would it change the way we thought about the present?

I feel like we are always looking for the bigger, better deal, you know? We look around and only see the things that aren’t going well. The laundry that isn’t done, the boss that isn’t perfect, the car that needs some work. We are telling ourselves, “If only this was different, things would be okay.” And yet, that’s never true, is it? When we fix the car, quit the job, do the laundry, things are different, but the basic truths about ourselves and how we perceive the world are 100% the same. If we want, we can find flaws in the new car, the new boss, and the way the laundry’s been folded.

And we can chase the ghost of Happy until it eats us up and leaves us a selfish shell of a human.

So, I guess I don’t believe that life is about being happy. I think that looking for happiness is the wild goose chase. Perhaps that’s the reason why it is virtually impossible to define – maybe it doesn’t really exist.

What I do believe in is Joy. In one of the books I read for scriptures (the Book of Mormon) it says, “Men are that they might have joy.” Not pleasure. Not contentment. Not happiness. Joy. That overwhelming feeling that what you’re doing is right, and that everything is working according to some great overarching plan of the universe.


Being joyful isn’t about being comfortable. It’s not about pleasure. It’s not even about happiness. Joyful is bigger and deeper than happiness ever could be, because joyful denotes a life that has deep peace and conviction regardless of circumstances. Happiness is on the surface. Joy is forever.

I think of Corrie Ten Boom a lot, since I’m writing a musical about her. She was in a concentration camp for over two years. She had a very rough time. Hard labor. Lice. Little food. Poor treatment. Was she happy? I don’t know. Was she comfortable? Definitely not. But, she did have peace. She did have faith. She knew that, whatever else happened, she had done the work she was supposed to do, and that she would continue to do what she felt was right until the day that she died. And so, she took joy in the smallest mercies of God. Took hope in the briefest glimpses of His goodness.

When things are wrong, and your life is hard, stop wondering about when you’ll be happy. Instead, consider if there joy to be found. Is there a way that this might be for the good of the Great Planner? There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and 100 billion galaxies. Is it possible that God’s perspective on your life is clearer than your own?

I’m gonna say that’s a big, “Yes.”

So, seek not for the fleeting face of happiness, saith the Willow. Instead, seek to find joy inside the moment. Search for peace that comes from knowing you are doing your part to make this one breath – the one you’re taking right now as you read – full of kindness and love. And, if you do that consciously, you won’t need letters or numbers to define your life. You will be defining it by every joyful moment, no matter how happy or unhappy that moment may feel.


You Have Time for Just One More:

[su_carousel source=”category: 20″ link=”post”][su_carousel source=”category: 13″ link=”attachment”][/su_carousel]

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts