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Find Your Joy by Countering the Five Thieves of Happiness

If you had to choose, would you rather be happy or joyful? On the surface, they may seem very similar—the words evoke feelings of contentment and satisfaction. But the key difference between the two is that happiness is an external, fleeting moment of satisfaction, while joy is an internal, long-lasting feeling of contentment.

"Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." — Henry David Thoreau

Happiness vs. Joy

I first understood the difference between joy and happiness during the summer of 2019. I was fortunate enough to take a sabbatical from work and decided to take a four-week solo trip to Nepal. I spent the first two weeks connecting with myself, exploring my newfound interest in Buddhism and spent the remainder of the trip volunteering. During this trip, I realized something: we can live a joyful life despite experiencing great struggles in life. While volunteering, I connected with people who had far less than I did but possessed an inner joy I never had. This led to a period of self-reflection where I ultimately learned that even if you don’t always feel happy, you can always have joy.

The problem is that we often fall into the trap of chasing after things that we think will make us happy: money, career success, relationships, friendships, fame, you name it. We convince ourselves that the grass is always greener on the other side and spend our entire life trying to cross over that hill.

But once you accomplish those things and that initial feeling of happiness fades, you might find yourself feeling a bit empty. That’s because while chasing those extrinsic motivators, many of us fall victim to the Five Thieves of Happiness.

What are the Five Thieves of Happiness?

Coined by Dr. John Izzo, the Five Thieves of Happiness are five thought patterns that prevent us from living a joyful life. These are destructive thought patterns that cause us to stand in the way of our own happiness and prevent us from leading a fulfilled life.

Dr. Izzo argues that to find true joy, we need to learn how to identify and “lockout” these thieves by rebuilding our thought patterns and living a more thoughtful, compassionate, and happier life.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll cover each of the Five Thieves of Happiness in-depth and introduce practical ways to overcome them so you can start living a more fulfilled, joyous life. But first, let’s cover the basics.

The Five Thieves of Happiness (sometimes referred to as the 5 C’s) are control, conceit, comparison (or coveting), consumption, and comfort.

  • Control: The urge to control everything around you.
    • A constant need for control gets in the way of your own happiness. To overcome this, you’ll need to let go: identify which factors are absolutely outside of your control and find ways to accept that.
  • Conceit: Your own self-centeredness.
    • Focusing too much on your own needs and desires instead of dedicating time to those around you is not a long-term strategy for joy. Happiness comes from helping others.
  • Comparison/CovetingWanting something someone else has.
    • The adage “Comparison is the thief of joy” exists for a reason. Do you frequently experience jealousy and envy towards other people? If so, you’re likely preventing yourself from finding joy in your own life.
  • Consumption: The idea that happiness only comes from external factors.
    • You may think you need to buy the newest gizmo or gadget to feel happy, but your brain will tell you to get just one more thing once you do. And so, the cycle repeats. Happiness comes from within, cliché as that may sound.
  • Comfort: Living life only in your “comfort zone.”
    • If you rarely step outside of your comfort zone, you’ll fall into a rut that can be hard to get out of. Taking risks is a part of life—without them, you’ll never truly feel fulfilled.

So which thief is preventing you from living a joyous life? On any given day, one of them may be a bigger hindrance than another—or you may encounter more than one at a time. By learning how to recognize each obstacle and what triggers them, you can practice overcoming them. In time, you’ll find yourself feeling more fulfilled.

Stay tuned for our next installment in this series to learn how to recognize and overcome the first thief of happiness, control.