If I’ve learned one thing in the past few years it is this: joy is not the same as happiness. Rather, it is having hope in the face of darkness and tragedy, and living life with a grateful heart for all of the things we do have, rather than focusing on all that we don’t.

This year I’ve learned the hard way about this kind of non-happiness joy. Through the past eight money-saving months as a newlywed, the sudden deaths of young friends, and the realization that I have no control over the outside world, I’ve come to learn–rather, been forced to learn–what joy really is and how to live it out. I’ve cried, I’ve envied, and I’ve felt more than my share of frustration. But through those feelings and the nasty circumstances, I’ve come to understand joy in ways I never had before.

My friend Jared passed away unexpectedly last month, and I was a total wreck after hearing the news, unable to show anyone even the slightest smile, and completely consumed in my own world of pain and sadness. A couple days later, I met up with Rebecca and Jayme–two of my closest girlfriends in San Diego–and I found myself laughing so hard my stomach hurt as Jayme told us a ridiculous story about her weekend.

As I left the coffee shop after our date, I felt confused and even guilty. I wondered, “How could I laugh at a time like this, after something so tragic just happened?” Sitting in my car, waiting for the light to turn green, I realized that sadness and laughter could in fact coexist. They are paradoxical, yes, but their coexistence is the making of true joy.

For so long I’ve tried to be beautiful through my appearance, but each day I’m seeing more and more how wrong I am about it all. Beauty isn’t about what we wear or how we look, but rather about who we are and who we’re becoming. Joy is one of those characteristics–one of the intangible, non-physical qualities that make us beautiful, regardless of shape or size.

If life has brought you some tough times, I understand–I’m in the same boat. Rather than cope with the pain of the past by making the outside look good, I challenge both of us to allow ourselves to experience real joy in spite of what we’ve been through. Let’s allow ourselves to really feel our emotions, let’s take moments throughout the day to express gratitude for what we do have, and let’s exude true, beautiful joy.

Read the rest of the articles in the 6 part series “The Character of Beauty” here.

Photo Credit: http://pinterest.com/pin/39125090482266697/