12/12/2011 12:06 pm ET | Updated Feb 11, 2012

The Anatomy of Joy

"I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace -- a connection to what matters."
-- Oprah Winfrey

Have you ever given thought to the emotion of joy? With the "season of joy" upon us, I am making a commitment to myself to become the observer of how, when, where and why joy arises in my experience. This process raises some interesting questions: Where does joy really live and how do we know when we are experiencing authentic joy? What is it that opens me to the experience commonly known as joy and is it the same experience for you as it is for me? Is joy really more readily available this time of year, or is it we who are more available to joy? Is the source of our joy internal or external and how can we have more of it every day of the year?

Once I invited my wonderful Facebook friends to share their ideas about joy and how and when it shows up in their lives. While their comments were wonderfully diverse there was also a very common thread running through most of them that spoke to the single most important component of joy which is a sense of personal connection. A connection to what? They referred to a connection to a universal presence some called God (some "Nature" or "Life") and with loved ones as the conduit through which joy flows in and through their lives.

In essence, when one is feeling personally connected to life and engaged in the present moment, joy becomes a natural part of the experience. Ask a musician what he is feeling when performing just for the "joy of it." He will say he is feeling connected to something larger than he and the music is moving through him effortlessly. Ask a new mother what she is feeling as she cradles her newborn baby -- a precious gift from beyond this world of flesh and bone. She will say she is feeling the joy of the oneness and miracle of life. Simply put, a connection with life brings joy.

In many spiritual traditions joy is considered another name for "Infinite Presence" expressing (pressing out) through us in those moments when we most feel our unity with life and one another. In this light we could say that joy is the heart throb of the infinite, pulsating in and through each of us in those moments when we feel a sense of connection to what matters, which most often centers on our relationships. Whether it is a relationship we are having with our loved ones, including the dog (or cat), strangers, nature's creatures or the planet itself, what matters most, and what brings the most joy, are relationships where there is a feeling of personal connection. Perhaps that's because in those moments of feeling connected to the people and things that matter we are also (knowingly or unknowingly) experiencing the greatest relationship of all, which is our unity with the universe itself. Joy brings with it a sense of wholeness where all sense of separation dissolves.

Where does joy live? Ultimately, joy is an inside job; it has taken up residence in our minds and hearts and is always on call, waiting to be activated and integrated in our lives and the lives of others. We cannot give others our joy because we cannot give them that which they already have -- however, we can be the stimulus that invokes joy to arise from within themselves. Joy is a subtle energy; it is as intangible as the air we breathe and, yet, as palpable as our heartbeat -- as difficult to describe as is love and, yet, as easy to feel as is love itself.

As we move through this "season of joy" may we remember that we don't have to wait for special occasions to be the beneficiaries of authentic joy, because there is never a moment when joy is further away than our next breath -- lo, our very next thought. All we have to do is turn within and think a thought that connects us with who and what really matters and invite our heart to wrap itself around that image knowing joy will ascend surly as does the morning sun. May you know the depths of a joy so rich and meaningful that you can't help but share it with your world this day and every day.