What is Joy? Part 4: Joy Lives in the Heart, Not the Mind

September 22, 2010 · by Brooke · Joy Is All Around You, What is Joy?

Photo by h_ssan, courtesy of flickr


From the time I began to talk about my experiences with keeping a Joy Journal, people have asked me, “Why Joy?” and “What is Joy vs. Happiness or Gratitude?”  This is the final post in a four part series sharing some of my thoughts exploring Joy. 

Part 4: Joy Lives in the Heart, Not the Mind  

“Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside.” – Dr. Melba Colgrove 

Joy is a spark that begins, completely unconsciously, when your heart (not your mind) is open to it.  One of my recent Joys was also an example of this when a friend invited me to the Whitney Museum to see the Charles Burchfield exhibit, an artist whose work I was not familiar with.  The paintings are truly something to behold.  However, it is Burchfield’s journal quotes that really struck me, as they capture his ability to find Joy in the everyday world surrounding him:  

 “Listen long to the singing of the telephone poles.  It sounds more weird and beautiful by moonlight…Each pole has a distinct tone.  A steady throbbing sound – the poles, once trees, still are full of life, which is expressed in this pulsating sound.  Seems a voice from the center of the earth.” 

— Charles Burchfield’s journals, Salem, OH.  August 4, 1914
Whitney Museum plaque: Song of the Telegraph, 1917-52


What an exclamation of Joy!  And he beautifully demonstrates that Joy is not something that initiates in your mind; it begins somewhere in your heart.  It is hard to imagine Burchfield consciously thinking that the hum of the telegraph wires would give him Joy.  Rather, his heart was open to finding Joy in the small things that made up his daily life — Suddenly he was struck by the aliveness of the sound.  Many other sensations such as Happiness or Gratitude, while often felt in the heart as well, can begin with the mind.  But Joy is usually not a conscious decision.  Often, part of the delight of Joy is that it is unexpected.  Joy is a spark that may or may not be easily explained, but begins when you are open to experiencing it. 

Burchfield also found Joy during a time he was suffering from a prolonged and severe illness, thereby reiterating a point made in What is Joy: Part 3 — you can experience moments of Joy, even when significant life events mean that you are not experiencing Happiness: 

“I must tell you about ‘my’ oak leaf – in my neighbor’s yard.  The yard had been raked clean of leaves, but later on, somehow this oak leaf got attached to something in the grass, so that it stands upright, and repeated gales and snow storms have failed to dislodge it.  It bends over with the wind and when it is calm again, there it is, standing up so pert and imp-like…” 

“…For me it has become a sort of symbol or example – as it clings on so stubbornly, so must I ‘hang on’ through this illness which has lasted so long.  I have moments of utter despair, and then I look out and see this little oak-leaf, my little friend.  Each morning I look for it and it is always there.” 

 — Letter from Charles to John I. H. Baur, January 7, 1957
Whitney Museum plaque: The Constant Leaf (The Steadfast Leaf), 1960


In the first paragraph, Burchfield expresses his sense of Joy – a pure and simple delight in the unexpected discovery of a lone leaf.  This sensation of Joy is not conscious and comes from his heart, not his mind.  In the second paragraph, Burchfield’s Joy spreads to a sensation in his heart and his mind — one of Gratitude or Happiness for each new day that he saw the leaf because it represented another day he had survived his illness.  

Frequently Joy leads to Gratitude or Happiness.  As one woman who kept a Joy Journal remarked, “Observing your Joy can create a general sense of Gratitude.“  By being present and experiencing to a greater degree the Joy that generally surrounds one, many Joy Journalers feel more thankful about the good things in their lives.   

Joyfully yours,


 Images from the show are on view at the Whitney Museum website and also via a slide show from The New Yorker.  

And my Gratitude to the curator who pored over Burchfield’s 10,000 journal pages to share with us these quotes.  Reading them gave my heart great Joy.

4 Responses to “What is Joy? Part 4: Joy Lives in the Heart, Not the Mind”

  1. Bridget Romano July 13, 2010 at 3:46 pm


    My Joy is sneaking a peek — midday and while at work — to learn what you have to say about simple pleasures and hidden treasures. A delicious treat indeed.


  2. Mesias786@yahoo.com January 15, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Just browsed though your whole website and loved it. You should make a field where people can subscribe for updates.

  3. You can subscribe via RSS feed or email using the buttons to the right.
    Joyfully yours,

  4. I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information ‘”;