“What is joy?” This was a question recently posed to me, and I had no idea how to answer.

I hadn’t spent much time or energy thinking about the value or importance of joy. I spent the first half of my life striving to have a successful career and sustainable life for my future. For the past 30 years, I thought about joy as if it was a destination to aspire to, not something that could be created or discovered despite life’s circumstances.

When I think about joy, I think more about how it feels to me rather than what it is. For me, joy feels like the smell of flowers in the spring air; the exact moment you look out into the ocean or up a mountain, and realize (for the hundredth time) the world is much bigger than you; the warmth of the sun on a cold winter day; the refreshing chill of ice cold sweet tea on one of summer’s scorching hot days; the sight of a butterfly stretching it’s wings before taking flight; the moment you put on a new outfit, look in the mirror for the first time and think, “I look good”; doing a good deed (like helping an elderly person cross the street or spending a few moments talking to a homeless person); or the moment on Nov. 8th, 2008 at 11pm EST when Wolf Blitzer announced on CNN that Sen. Barack Obama would become the 44th President of the United States.

Moreover, it feels like to moment you begin loving all of yourself (and be damned what others may think); it feels like the moment your fraternity brother asks you to be the best man at his wedding; the moment you realize that your best friend is more like family than a friend; your partner rubbing your back or massaging your feet when you’ve had a rough day; the laughter of a cousin when you know they’ve gone through some really difficult times; the moment your childhood friend reaches out to you, because after years of disconnect, you’re still the only person that can truly understands the depths of who they are; the first time your child smiles at you as you hold him or her in your arms and you know at that moment nothing else matters; the smile of your dad when you know he’s proud of you; your mother saying, “Thank you for being my child”; or the first time you realize your own worth and value as a person.

So I guess for me, joy is the warmth and connection you feel in being in an authentic relationship with yourself, others and the world. It’s when you experience being loved, valued and seen. It is the fuel that reenergizes your spirit, and one of the most powerful experiences of human connection. It’s the thing that gives us hope and faith in times of despair, fear and doubt. Joy is the moment we begin to accept that we are continuously blessed with the small things in life that truly mean everything to us.

In writing this essay, I’m realizing that joy is found within us and because of life’s circumstances, not in spite of them. It is a state of being and destination that lives within us that can be valued and appreciated in all of the world’s gifts. Since joy is within and around us, we have an endless supply, and that is definitely something to be joyful about.