“Trust me, real joy is a serious thing. Do you think someone can, in the charming expression, blithely dismiss death with an easy disposition? Or swing open the door to poverty, keep pleasures in check, or meditate on the endurance of suffering? The one who is comfortable with turning these thoughts over is truly full of joy, but hardly cheerful. It’s exactly such a joy that I would wish for you to possess, for it will never run dry once you’ve laid claim to its source.”SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 23.4
“Joy” is an overused word in our conversations these days. It’s not the same as “cheer”, and in today’s quote above from Seneca, he draws a clear distinction between the two.
Cheer in times of plenty and abundance requires no great effort. It’s easy to be cheerful when things are going great. Heck, it’s even possible to fake cheerfulness when things are going poorly.
But joy runs deeper. It’s a constant state. It’s what allows a person to ponder grim and complex topics (as Seneca outlined) without being destroyed by them.
In fact, stoic joy is serious. If that sounds like an oxymoron, stay with me. Stoic joy is a serious and lasting state — which enables one to feel contentedness, bravery, resilience, and inner strength — even when times are tough.
Joy is more serious than cheer, because it’s more substantial, and because it has more significant effects and implications. Joy runs all the way to your soul, instead of just being surface level like cheer.