The Joy of Life

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“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

… once said Rumi (1996). What does “joy” mean though? How does a moving river make you feel? Why it is so important?

Well, based on the findings of Johnson’s (2019) study, joy provides the motivation to act, to intervene and to improve. Besides being the source of energy, Johnson states that joy is one of the main precedents of human flourishing.

Flourishing, moving river in a soul… Sounds great! But what does joy really refer to though? In a word, joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness (n.d.). It is included in the list of basic emotions and accepted from many researchers (Fredrickson, 1998; Frijda, 1986; Lazarus, 1991; Plutchik, 2003). Even though we have a short definition in hand, we must say that existing work on joy is quite small. Vaillant (2008) complains in his study that, despite the apparent importance of joy, it appears to be the least studied of the positive emotions. Considering the importance of positive emotions to subjective well-being, it can be easily said that understanding joy is crucial to grasp of the source of energy, of the moving river, of the human flourishing and of many more!

In light of these convincing research findings and apparent gaps in the literature on joy, I set my heart on understanding more of it. Besides the literature, my personal experiences about joy motivates me to investigate joy. Personally, I feel fulfilled and alive especially in moments of joy. I find this sense of fulfillment in life one of the most crucial predictors of a satisfying life.

In light of my experiences, I wondered how often my peers experience “a river moving in themselves”, in other words, the “joy”.

I came across with several research conducted on happiness and gratitude levels on undergraduates (Mangeloja, 2007; Barker, 2016; du Plessis, 2020). Yet, there are quite limited number of research assessing the joy of undergraduates. I became curious about how frequently the undergraduate students connect especially with joy during their education life. In this quasi-research, I seek answer for the question of “How joyful are the undergraduate students in Koç University?

I gathered my data via Qualtrics survey using the adapted version of the Joy-of-Life Scale which has developed by Haugan and his colleagues (2019). The Joy-of-Life scale is a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). As the scale has high internal validity, I decided to use it for my quasi-research. Although the scale has developed for assessing the joy of nursing home patients in Norway, I believe that the items can be generalized for college students as well. In that purpose, some of the items are reframed for college students. Afterwards, the adapted version of Joy of Life Scale is translated and back translated by a native English speaker to ensure the validity. In this way, I ended up with validated 13 items which are in Turkish and are appropriate for measuring the joy levels of undergraduate students. At the end, I got 46 prevalent answers from Koç University undergraduates.

From the results of my humble sample, I see that the undergraduates in Koç are not as joyful as I expected. Just like in the analysis of the original scale, I decided to analyze the answers for each of the item of my adapted Joy of Life Scale. According to the results, my peers voted their joy level as two out of five in average. Almost for all of the items, the mean score is found out to be two, which is under the midlevel. For example, the item “Hayatımı dolduracak anlamlı bir işim, hobim ya da uğraşım vardır” is answered as “not agree” by the majority of undergraduate students. Hereby I can say that the results were quite surprising to my way of thinking as I was way more optimistic about my peers’ joy levels while collecting data. Thus, the results did not meet the expectations, since I expected my peers to feel that “moving river” more often than what they have reported.

Here is the question…So what? What are we going to do with the findings of these joyless college students?

Well, an ocean of things can be done to make change!

As joy is regarded as a crucial factor for life satisfaction by mentioned researchers, I believe that it is considerably important for undergraduates’ well-being to be more aware of their joyfulness. The awareness can be regarded as the first step of the implications. As the second step, ways of connecting with joy should be taken into consideration. As an example, social clubs in the university could conduct a series of activities that aim to boost insight about joy levels of students. Also, seminars given by positive psychology educators could be held to enhance the base knowledge about life satisfaction and its connection with joy. As the quasi-research on joy is especially investigated the students in Koç University, the activities that take place within the context of university could be regarded as one of the most effective implications of its findings.

Truth be told, there are a considerable number of limitations of my quasi-research. First things first, I might have a nonrepresentative sample for the undergraduate students. Even, the sample might not be representative for the Koç University undergraduates due to small sample size. Other than that, the items might lose their meanings as I translated and reframed most of them to get an appropriate version for college students.

Despite all the probable limitations, I believe that this quasi research could be considered as an effort to raise awareness about how joyful we are in our lives. By taking into account the importance of boosting awareness and the implications of practicing joy, all of us can take that first step to feel the “moving river in us”!


Barker, E. T., Howard, A. L., Galambos, N. L., & Wrosch, C. (2016). Tracking affect and academic success across university: Happy students benefit from bouts of negative mood. Developmental Psychology, 52(12), 2022–2030.

du Plessis, C. F., Guse, T., & du Plessis, G. A. (2020). “I Am Grateful That I Still Live Under One Roof With My Family”: Gratitude Among South African University Students. Emerging Adulthood, 216769682097069.

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology. Special Issue: New Directions in Research on Emotion, 2, 300–319.

Frijda, N. H. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haugan, G., Rinnan, E., Espnes, G., Drageset, J., Rannestad, T. and André, B., 2022. Development and psychometric properties of the Joy‐of‐Life Scale in cognitively intact nursing home patients.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York, NY: Oxford Press.

Mangeloja, E., & Hirvonen, T. (2007). What Makes University Students Happy? International Review of Economics Education, 6(2), 27–41.

Plutchik, R. (2003). Emotions and life: Perspectives from psychology, biology, and evolution. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Rumi (1996), Jewels of remembrance. Version by k. Helminski.

The Difference Between Joy and Happiness. (n.d.).

Vaillant, G. E. (2008). Spiritual evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope, and love. New York, NY: Broadway Books.


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