By Lee Merrill

re you struggling to find your "happy" this holiday season? Perhaps you're searching for the wrong thing. Writer and speaker Danielle LaPorte said, "Happiness is like rising bubbles–delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen–ever present."

Happiness and joy are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. According to, “Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile.” The words “happy” and “happiness” contain the same root word, -hap, which means “luck or chance.” It’s no wonder the word “happen” has the same root word, since we seem to need a steady string of positive happenings to keep our happiness intact.

What about joy? Joy is more than a fickle emotion. It’s a state of being, knowing your life has meaning and holds hope, no matter your circumstances. The late American journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns once said, “Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness — happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.” 

So how can we choose joy when our happiness is hiding? 

Heartache and joy can coexist. When hard times invade your holidays, look for the flashes of joy. Borrow some wonder from the kids in your life. Reflect on the spiritual meaning of the holidays you observe. Remember the old carol that declares “tidings of comfort and joy”? Heartache and joy can hold hands. Finding reasons to rejoice does not disrespect your grief. It provides a cushion for your aching heart.

Practice gratitude and hang with grateful people. Much like a storm cloud hides the sun, difficult circumstances have a way of overshadowing the good things in life. Search for the good as if your life depends on it. Start a running list of huge and small blessings. Everything from healthy loved ones to the perfect bite of pecan pie. Make sure the bulk of your time is spent with people with grateful hearts.

Reinforce your day with supportive rituals. Sadness tends to slow us down and steal our motivation. The way you start and end your day makes a huge difference in how the rest of the day goes. Start your day with something warm in a favorite mug. Read a scripture passage or some other inspirational piece. Spend some time in prayer or in your journal. Pour out your concerns and declare some intentions for the day. Pause mid-day or any other time you need to refocus your mindset and reframe your frustrations. End your day with whatever soothes your soul. A warm bath with candles, a funny movie, your favorite music or a call with a dear friend. And if you need it, have yourself a good cry.

Look for opportunities to serve others. Use your time and talents to bring joy to others. Fill some shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. Watch your neighbor’s kids so they can run some holiday errands. Spend some quality time with an older person and let her share stories or some hard-earned wisdom. Foster a pet from a local rescue. David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author, said, “Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.” 

Don’t let the misery of your circumstances take charge of your life this holiday season. Give the joy inside you a chance to shine.