Good Mood of the Soul

Recently, a friend sent me a printout of a sermon that my dad, who was a Presbyterian pastor, gave on parenting 36 years ago. She had a printed copy and kept it filed away. Now that her kids are long grown, she sent it to me.

In it, my dad gives a quick synopsis of his children’s personalities, “We look at our three children and see that their responses to life were distinctly different from day one. Our first child was laid back and relaxed … our second was wound up so tight she couldn’t keep her head still to nurse … our third was happy and charming. They had those marks when they were born … they still have them today.”

I’m the third one. That was written when I was 17 years old. But there’s something about family patterns that keep us trapped in roles from which we need to move on from. For me that was moving from happy to joyful.

In her recent book, Atlas of the Heart, researcher and author Brené Brown defines happiness as “Looking at the data we’ve collected, I would define the state of happiness as feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances.

And that fits pretty well with the list I can name of the things that make me happy:

  • Dance parties with my kids
  • Finishing a shower without interruption from my kids
  • Hearing a song I loved from college in the grocery store
  • A vanilla milkshake on a hot summer day

When I discovered meditation and mindfulness during my travels through the less pleasant periods of my life, it taught me that joy is a different feeling altogether. Brené Brown says she thinks of joy as “‘the good mood of the soul.’” She defines it based on her research as, “An intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure and appreciation.”

For me joy comes when I let go of seeking and preference. As poet Mark Nepo said, “One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.” It’s cultivating my awareness of what is already present and my delight at the magic in the air. It works when I stop narrowing my field of vision to my agenda and open to all there is. Not surprisingly, researchers have connected joy to gratitude and describe the two together as “an intriguing upward spiral.’ (from Atlas of the Heart). Gratitude increases our ability to feel joy, joy makes it easier to find gratitude and so on.

And here are the things that make me joyful:

  • Every time I get to wake up and witness a sunrise
  • Catching a glimpse of my kids in a circle with the other kids in the neighborhood leaning heads in to examine some fascinating part of life
  • Holding hands
  • Hearing the clink of glasses at a dinner with dear friends
  • Witnessing a whale surface to breathe
  • Listening to the Bach Cello Suites played by Yo-Yo Ma
  • The view from the top of a mountain no matter how breathless, exhausted and cold I am
  • Anything that comes out of a conversation that starts with “How can I be of help?”

The conditions of happiness are specific and fleeting. I’m frequently happy but it certainly isn’t a constant.

The conditions of joy are deep and enduring. They represent ties in my life, beauty of this world and things I’ve worked to make priorities. It is the current underneath my mood. It’s the reward for when I’m aligned with my values.

For the times of my life where I’ve felt like I’m stuck, wading through glue or too busy taking care of others to take care of myself – it’s joy that pulled me through, making it worthwhile all the way.

I might have been born happy, but I’m grateful to live joyfully.

Do you feel a difference between happiness and joy? What brings you happiness or joy?

For most posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at or follow me on Instagram @wynneleon

(featured photo by Pexels)

29 thoughts on “Good Mood of the Soul

  1. Hi Wynne,

    Well, you just knocked this post “outta the park!”–and I’m not even a baseball fan! Truly, what great insights that you’ve shared with us. I loved this, as it relates to joy: It’s cultivating my awareness of what is already present and my delight at the magic in the air.” Thank you for sharing what makes you joyful–what a great list. I searched the Bach Cello Suites–wonderful! It made me think of a special piece of music that moves me: Highland Cathedral.

    Thanks again! Here’s a link, for anyone who might be interested.

  2. Beautiful post Wynne. I’ve always made a distinction between peace happiness which I think is perhaps what you’re getting at here with joy. I tend to think you can be in all sorts of moods but still be at peace. It’s something deeper – more spiritual. Happiness on the other hand is very transient. It never lasts and trying chase or make it last is a mistake. Being grateful is certainly a prerequisite for cultivating that inner peace/joy.

    1. Yes, AP2! You delineate it really well. I especially like when you say you can be in all sorts of mood but still be at peace. Yes! Thank you for the great comment!

  3. Great! Wonderfully written and thoughtful. I’ve often thought about and written about happiness, but I don’t think enough about (and perhaps haven’t written about) joy. I’m guilty of too often lumping “wonderful feelings” together as all being the same thing. This is a huge mistake. We might also talk about “pleasure” and “contentment” and “peace” (as AP2 mentioned). Drawing fine distinctions can teach us so much. You’ve given me some “thinking homework” I need to do. Thanks.

    1. Agreed: very thought provoking. As I was reading through it and thinking about the sources of happiness and of joy, Nhat Hanh’s words: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” came to mind. You’ve given me some “thinking homework” to do as well. Thank you for that!

    2. Thanks, Troy. You are right – sometimes it seems like a fine distinction. But it seems like maybe they are sourced from somewhere else. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  4. Lovely post Wynne and how amazing to have something of your dads that is so personal to you. I agree with you and all the comments above. Joy can always be found regardless of mood. Thank you for the reminder

    1. This post seems perfect with your moniker, Cathy! Thank you for your lovely comments. I agree – Joy can be found regardless of mood should be a new mantra!! Thanks for commenting!

  5. i love what you mentioned about joy being easily pleased! that’s something i’ve reflected on this summer while traveling and it’s made my days much more enjoyable and i feel such a boost in my overall demeanor. thanks for sharing ❤️

    1. What an interesting perspective you provide from your summer of travel, Elle! Love that you say it gives you a boost in your overall demeanor. Thanks for commenting and sending you great wishes for safe and joyful travels!

    1. What a deep and lovely comment, Ari. Which is of course no surprise coming from you. Peace as a choice to sit in equanimity with the tensions of opposites. Beautiful!!

  6. A thought provoking post, Wynne.
    What a wonderful quote, “One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.”
    My mum was easily pleased because she saw, “Beauty in everything and good in everyone.”
    I believe in my mum’s recipe for joy.

  7. A Course in Miracles says that forgiveness is the key to happiness. In my experience, that is true. It is also true that when I am feeling bereft of joy, I flip a mental switch and move into gratitude; my experience then becomes: gratitude is the key to joy. Reading your blogs is also a joy—why am I not surprised that you are the happy charming one?

    1. Love your description of how you swear gears and flip that mental switch. It sometimes seems so far away — and yet, we do it and it seems easy. Oh, Julia, you crack me up and also flatter me! Thanks, my friend!

    2. Oh, one more thing. At my dad’s funeral, one of his dear friends came up to me and whispered in my ear, “you were his favorite.” I replied that I bet she said that to all the kids. But it might be true that he was a little biased when it came to me. 😉

  8. “The more we focus on gratitude, the easier it is to perceive joy” This I know to be true! To answer your question, my physical and mental health, my spouse who’s a chef who’s currently cooking a Food Network worthy meal, my circle of support, and my home to just name a few…

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