What's joy all about, anyway?

Cathy Morton exults in the natural beauty that’s around her, especially when she’s on her walks around Burnaby Lake. - Mario Bartel/NewsLeader
Cathy Morton exults in the natural beauty that’s around her, especially when she’s on her walks around Burnaby Lake.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

In this special pre-Christmas edition, the NewsLeader tells some stories about Joy.

Joy to the World. Children's faces lighting up with joy. Expressions and wishes of joy. They're all prevalent during the holidays. But what exactly is the concept of joy?

To Dr. Joti Samra, part of joy is feeling happy, but joy is broader than happiness.

The Simon Fraser University adjunct professor of psychology explained that joy is a more lasting state, a sense of inward peace and contentment, the sort of calm that exists even during negative events such as being stuck in terrible Friday afternoon traffic.

Happiness, on the other hand, is more fleeting and more tied to external forces, Samra said. "Buying a new pair of shoes may bring a short-term sense of happiness, it's not going to be joy in the same way."

Kids experience joy all the time, without knowing it.

"Children are often in a state of joy and it's because they're present, they're living in the moment, they're not focused on their worry about the future or concerns about the past," she said. "They're enjoying their moment now."

And during the holidays, when stress abounds, Samra said she encourages her patients to think about what they value in their lives and how they can foster that.

"Because the $50 gift is going to bring a temporary state of something, whereas if you can step back and think about what is the spirit really about, it's about our experiences with people we care about. That's what sticks with us," she said.

"Those memories are what bring more lasting joy and contentment in our life."

Meanwhile, marketers have long recognized the power of the word "joy" in its efforts over the holidays.

Lindsay Meredith, marketing professor at SFU, said some words have connotations and "attitudinal hooks" that are very deep.

"What you're doing is you're looking for those key trigger words that are going to evoke the attitudinal response you're looking for," Meredith said, noting advertising campaigns always happen with much thought and market research behind them.

Joy is a word that makes people think of Christmas, which has spiritual connotations.

"It's one of those words that's probably farther away from, if you will, the crass commercialization of Christmas. It's one that does double duty," he said.

The word's evocation of the spiritual side of the season "gives it a certain protection from the commercial side" but at the same time, it can be used very effectively by marketers promoting the joy on kids' faces while receiving presents and the joy of giving.

However, the effectiveness of the word is really only at this time of year.

"It's part of its power. If it is an iconic image hooked to a particular issue, the birth of Christ, that means it holds a very special, very, very targeted position, if you will. To that degree, it only makes the word truly useful and applicable in the context of Christmas," Meredith said.

"You're not going to see this [word] flogged heavily in August. Ain't gonna happen."

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