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Happiness Versus Joy and Why We Choose Happy Too

In Our Family, We Choose Happy

When I was 18, I worked as a preschool assistant to one of the world’s most amazing teachers. One of her signature phrases was encouraging kids to find their “happy heart”, a practice I carried with me through years of babysitting, nannying and — now — motherhood.

In fact, the mythology of the happy heart has taken on a life of its own in our family. It is a magical, invisible, happy little thing that comes creeping or crawling across the floor, flying through the air, or wiggling out of pockets. It comes in a variety of amazing colors and delicious flavors. But most importantly, you can only eat your happy heart if you’ve spit out your grumpy heart (and if you can’t spit it out on your own, Mommy can always pull it out of your ear or belly button for you!).

Most of my girls have grown out of the happy heart phase, except in the most dire of situations, but I’m looking forward to restarting the tradition with Jackson in the next year or so!


I’ve often heard people talk about the difference between joy and happiness, and they usually do it in a way that almost disparages happiness:

Happiness is an emotion, but joy is a choice.

Happiness is temporary, but joy is lasting.

Happiness focuses on your circumstances, but joy focus on the eternal.

All of those may be true, but I think I like this comparison best:

Happiness is an outward expression of elation, while joy is inward expression of peace and contentment.

While joy should be present regardless of circumstances (and is the one we talk about in hard circumstances), I think happiness is a worthy goal as well:

  • I want my children to know that I’m not just peaceful and content with our life but actually elated to have the privilege to be their mommy.
  • I want to smile and share jokes with friends and strangers alike just because life is good and it’s fun to spread a little sunshine.
  • I want to choose not just contentment, which implies a sacrificial choice when things don’t necessarily go your way, but excitement over even the little things in life.

That’s why, in our family, we choose joy. But we choose happy too.


In Our Family, We Choose Happy

A smile is a life-giving, joy-spreading, happiness-building gift that we can give to others and ourselves, and as our family continues to practice smiling even when it’s not easy, what we’re really practicing is choosing happy.

We choose happy even when we need to compromise because time and money are limited and we can’t do everything that everybody wants to do.

We choose happy even when plans get changed or something we’re looking forward to gets canceled.

We choose happy even when someone else is recognized for their hard work, talent or skill and we’re not.

We choose happy even when we have to do something we don’t really feel like doing.

That’s not to say that we don’t experience frustration, anger, sadness or disappointment, because those are all valid emotions as well. But at the end of the day, life is a lot more fun when you choose to be happy anyway.

So we choose happy.


In Our Family We Choose Happy Art Print

Click here to download this print. Use it in a frame as wall art, add it to the front of your binder or hang it on a mirror as a reminder!

P.S. Here’s how I choose joy in the morning and when I want to scream instead.