What is joy, exactly?

Recently I started reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, and came across a concept of his that surprised me: that “joy” is not an emotion, but rather a “deep state of being.” I had been equating joy with intense happiness, but Tolle says there is a difference. He says that joy comes only from within us—not from external factors. Pleasure is what comes from external factors, and it is generally short-lived. Pleasure can cause pain when what brought it ends or disappears. Huh. I hadn’t considered that distinction before. All this time I have been seeking joy from external sources. That explains a lot about why it has been so fleeting!

I do wonder, though, if what gives me pleasure can be an avenue to joy?  (Avenue to Joy: band name.)  I feel like the tiniest things can make a difference. If you sprinkle little tidbits of pleasure throughout the day, you end up with an overall happy day, and if you do that regularly, you’d end up with a happy life—right?

I took a course from a marvelous life coach named Anna Kunnecke about intentionally creating blissful experiences to boost happiness, and it definitely improved my quality of life during the course.  My activities included massages, good food, baths, chocolate, wine, champagne, hot tea, cashmere sweaters, fresh flowers, clearing clutter, and going to the beach. I feel like those brought me joy at the time. I guess Tolle would say they just provided momentary pleasure. It’s true that they didn’t create a lasting sense of joy within me, but I appreciated and enjoyed them nonetheless.

For my purposes as a “joy detective,” I’ll use the term a little more loosely here than Tolle defines it, but I’m going to keep thinking on this concept. I will ruminate on the idea that the best path to joy is to explore within myself. I have to say, it doesn’t sound nearly as fun as a trip to Tahiti! Seriously, though, I’ve experienced days where nothing I do makes me feel better; there is a dissatisfaction within me that external pleasures won’t fix. I suspect that he has a real point, and that abiding joy is more of a peaceful connection to God/the universe, or perhaps a re-connection to our souls, rather than the emotional high I’ve been picturing and pursuing. I think that reading authors who have experienced this—like Tolle, and Martha Beck, and Byron Katie, and Thich Nhat Hanh, and Esther Hicks—can help us learn how to go within and find that true joy.

Meanwhile I will also continue the “pursuit of happiness” in my external life, because things like chocolate and hugs and sunshine give me great pleasure, and I enjoy those kinds of treats even if they’re not necessarily the path to enlightenment. Sometimes you just want to snuggle up with a glass of wine and a good novel and take a break from the hard work of self-improvement, you know?

What do you think about this concept of joy coming from within rather than without? Does it ring true for you? How do you define joy?