Mental Health & Counseling

Surprised by Joy

November 22, 2022

Joy | \  jöi: noun. \ The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

Mean·​ing |  \ ˈmē-niŋ: noun. \ Significant; of importance, or value. Purpose. 


People come asking about their sense of emptiness, their lack of fulfillment and absence of joy. They have a vague feeling there is more to life, a sense that something is missing. They want to be happy. They want to experience true joy. They want authentic fulfilment.

The answer: do not seek happiness or joy. Wrong road there, dead end, you’ll just be disappointed. Rather, seek meaning and purpose. And you will be surprised by joy. 


Find something that holds meaning. Something beyond you. Something that includes others, the community, the church, your work, your family. You thought your job was a lowly, humble sort? Think again. It is where God has placed you for this time, for a season and a reason. No matter how lowly, how humble you feel it is, put your heart into it. Apply yourself, go the second mile. You will be rewarded. If nothing else, when your head hits the pillow you will know, deep down inside that endless soul of yours, that you have done everything you could.

Talk to anyone confronting an addiction. They started out seeking a brand of happiness and fulfillment that is actually something called self-soothing. They looked for a medication, a quick fix, to fill the void, to make them feel better. Porn and gaming fill that recipe, that script, nicely. You can measure that brand of happiness in minutes and maybe, if you’re lucky, hours. It may even bring euphoria or ecstasy, which can be mistaken for joy. But it’s transient. Always.

The same can be said for seeking meaning and purpose in conspiracy theories, politics, and fads. Perhaps you find an adrenaline rush in the controversy and revel in the debate. But at the end of the day this is only counterfeit meaning and purpose that provides nothing more than pressure, emptiness, and exhaustion. The happiness that comes from winning the argument is fleeting and pales to the ultimate disconnect as you mar and destroy relationships. 

Search not for happiness, seek not joy. Rather, seek the hard thing and these emotions will come as a side effect. The result of righteousness is peace and joy forever. The right thing. The right thing is also the high road, the way less traveled, the valley of the shadow of death. It is about barriers and boundaries, borders and balancing acts.

Confront the hard thing, the dark, the difficult. Pick up just one foot, the left if you will, and place it ahead of the other one. Now take the right foot and move it forward. There, you made progress. Now step over the edge. Accept some new responsibility, something heavy: enlarge the borders of your tent, deny yourself the instant pleasure. Maybe cancel your Instagram and Facebook accounts and ask someone to monitor your internet use. Self-bind and self-deny. Surrender and self-sacrifice. And you’ll be surprised. Surprised by joy. 

Ultimately a belief in the divine, a throwing in your lot with the creator of the universe, the creator of you, is the very embodiment of meaning. Something beyond this vale of tears and sorrow, beyond this life, beyond yourself and that little corner you call home. Another word for meaning is God. Another word for purpose is heaven.


People with depression benefit from seeking deeper meaning. Take on a new responsibility, pick up something heavy, book a ticket out of the comfort zone. First learn to recognize—and then step outside—all the negative self-talk, the self-defeating behaviors, and try something uncomfortable and risk-laden that promises potential benefits (make friends with someone you’ve seen at church but never gotten to know, meet a neighbor, find a more challenging job, pick up a hobby, get a dog). And remember, do things that bring happiness to others. And you will be surprised. Surprised by joy.  


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