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Are You Chasing Happiness or Joy?

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

5 steps to recognizing the difference and grabbing a hold of what you deserve

By Malika J. Stevely, author of Song of Redemption: A historical southern novel inspired by true events

Events around the world and on the news have many people longing for something to smile about. Some are seeking fulfillment in hobbies or getting reacquainted with talents away from which they had once drifted.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall during a book club discussion of my novel, Song of Redemption. While the protagonist is a young, enslaved songstress, surprisingly, the book and its characters have been embraced by a local all-male book club who affectionately call themselves, “The Bro-hams Book Club.” They spoke about some of the themes and topics in the novel, such as:

  • Family and the male perspective

  • The challenges of Black mariners in the Antebellum South

  • The African American deaf community pre-Civil War

But what intrigued me most was the topic toward which they gravitated, joy.

There is a part in the book where one enslaved character tells another that he does not wish her happiness, but joy. At that point during the Bro-hams Book Club meeting, I was asked to peel myself off the wall and join the conversation.

We have all heard the saying, that money doesn’t buy happiness. (I used to joke that the person who created that phrase probably never experienced poverty). Some may argue that happiness, gladness, and joy are one and the same. But I have seen with some people, especially those suffering from depression, that they seek happiness in accomplishments or from others and are still unable to truly find or sustain it. Perhaps they are lacking joy.

...since we can’t avoid storms, the best way to get over one is to go through it.

Happiness is an emotion – it is based on circumstances – the effect of something wonderful. Joy is internal – it is sown and is often partnered with peace. You may have heard, or you may have even said it yourself, that someone has a beautiful spirit, despite what is going on around them. That might be because that person has joy. Joy is consistent but not necessarily the absence of a storm. I always say that since we can’t avoid storms, the best way to get over one is to go through it.

I can recall one of a few moments when I decided to choose joy several years ago, and it happened to be while I was in the midst of a raging cyclone. My father had recently passed away, and I had just relocated to a new city. The position that I thought was guaranteed fell through, and of course bills were piling up and I was beyond nervous. As I was driving, feeling sorry for myself, there was a gospel song that had come on the radio, I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired, written by Rev. James Cleveland.

I don’t feel no ways tired,

I’ve come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me the road would be easy,

And I don’t believe He’s brought me this far to leave me.

And as that song continued to play, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of joy knowing that I would be in a storm but for a moment. That lesson from my temporary pain would not be lost. That song, for me, was a reminder of the peace and joy that we all deserve and the necessary steps one needs to obtain joy:

#1 - Own your own joy regardless of material things

Own the joy that is in your heart and not outside of it. Find what gives you joy, not from who you are expecting to receive it.

#2 - Challenge your story and change it as you see fit

Your experiences do not have to be your outcome. Some people torment themselves by how they see their lives or their past. They narrate their stories based on what they may have experienced without realizing that they have the power to change their story.

#3 - Be intentional about relationships and make them count

As the saying goes, “You are the company you keep,” be mindful of those within your circle and the energy they project. Reflect on what you project onto others. Above all, enjoy the relationship you have with yourself, and never forget to love and encourage the person you see in the mirror.

#4 - Balance work with play

If you are one who gives work your all to the point that you or your family gets what’s left of you – the leftover energy, patience, etc., perhaps it is time to make a shift. I am an advocate of working hard and playing hard and I realize that some may not have the luxury of time to play as hard as they would like – coming from a person who has nearly worked themselves into a disastrous state, it is worth it to find pleasure in reclaiming time for ourselves to reboot and find pieces of joy and areas of playtime in our lives. After all, if we do not take the time to help ourselves, how well would we be able to assist others?

#5 - Enjoy the journey, not the destination

I have watched people set goals or resolutions, whether it’s weight loss, obtaining a degree, or a specific position, and they were so focused on the end result that they were unable to celebrate the milestones. If my goal is to lose 20 pounds, for every 2 that I lose, I will be doing a 90’s old school dance in celebration. You have worked hard to get to each step, applaud that you can look back and see the steps you left behind.

Is joy a choice?

On the other side of joy, well, I’m sure you have heard the saying, “Misery loves company.” There are people who want nothing more than to take your joy. Most people refer to them as haters. Every story has a villain, so why shouldn’t you? Contrary to belief, having haters is a good thing – they are annoying reminders that you are doing something right. If you are one who strives to do things with excellence, you will always be a threat to some pesky individual. Even the mighty lion, King of the Jungle, has to swat at a few flies every now and again. Remain focused, know that you are amazing, and as one of the characters in Song of Redemption instructs, “Always choose joy.”


Malika's Creative Lab: Sharing lessons in writing and the magic of life.

About Malika

Malika J. Stevely is an author of historical fiction, African American and women's literature, and essays. She is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton where she earned dual degrees in English and Comparative Literature and Communications. She later worked as a newspaper reporter and in the field of marketing for several years. Mrs. Stevely has published a diverse array of articles and interviews with icons such as Dr. Maya Angelou.

Malika Stevely is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women's National Book Association. She holds an office position with multiple organizations that promote stewardship and leadership.

Mrs. Stevely resides in North Carolina with her husband and children and enjoys dancing and singing show tunes at the top of her lungs. She is the author of Song of Redemption: A Southern Historical Novel Inspired by True Events.


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