"What's joy?" I asked.
Immediately 26 hands shot up, all of them waving wildly.
One young person, unable to resist, called out, "Joy is being happy!"
"Nope, not quite," I replied. And, immediately 26 hands dropped, and 26 thoroughly baffled faces looked back at me.
After some prodding, some nudges, lots of talking, I began to help them see the difference.
Happy, we decided is temporary. It's great while it lasts, and things can make us happy. A really good piece of chocolate, a great cup of coffee for me. For them, winning their football game, getting the newest electronic toy might do the trick.
But, joy, well, to me, joy is something else. Joy lasts, even when everything around you is, to quote my mom, "going to hell in a hand basket."
After a bit more prodding, questioning, and still some baffled faces, we added to it.
Joy is that feeling you get when you've done something for some one. It's active, and it's in the doing. You don't sit around and have it happen to you.
Happy doesn't take much, if any, effort on our part. If someone hands me a cookie, I'm happy. Nothing needs done on my part, except to eat it.
If we can let go of our anxieties and worries a bit, really understand that no matter how hard we try that we never are completely in charge of our lives and how they unfold, then joy can blossom. Joy happens when we trust in something, or someone, greater than ourselves.
Joy happens when we can move beyond our own immediate wants and needs, when we put others first.
So, I don't know that this is completely theologically correct. I also don't know that those baffled but loving young folks really, really got the difference. They did walk out knowing, I think, that the two - joy and happiness - aren't quite the same thing.
They know that we need to move beyond ourselves.
And, to me, Christmas is a season of joy, of giving. For some of us, it's all too temporary a thing, but I hope it's a start, at least a tiny reflection in the bigger scheme called life. I hope that joy helps us to reach out to the people we meet each and every day - at least offering a hello and a smile. A genuine asking of how it's going, and even more so, a genuine reaction of wanting to help.
So, for Christmas, I wish you happiness. But, even more so, I wish you joy.
Most of all, I wish you a Christmas that lasts all year long.
Note: These are the cards I'm sending out this year. I took the photo last year at Longwood Gardens in PA.