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The meaning of ‘joy’

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the meaning of ‘joy’.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers.

  • Have available the ‘Ode to joy’ from Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. A version is available at: and is 3.39 minutes long.


Play the ‘Ode to joy’ from Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven as the students enter.

Leader: I wonder what we think of when we hear the word ‘joy’. It isn’t a word that is used very often. We are more likely to hear people say that they are happy or content. There is an old Christian song that goes like this.

Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising.
Give me joy in my heart, I pray.
Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising,
Keep me praising till the break of day.

But what does it mean to be joyful?

The entrance music you heard is by Beethoven and is called the ‘Ode to joy’. It is used as the anthem for the European Union and is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller that talks about the joys and wonderful things that await us in heaven.

Interestingly, when you type the word ‘joy’ into Google, the first entry is for a clothes store by that name. Does that make you think about the correct meaning for the word ‘joy’?

Is joy found in shopping? Maybe the owners of the clothes store are correct. People do get pleasure from buying things and owning them. Joy is linked with pleasure and happiness. Maybe you can pinpoint the last time you purchased something that brought you joy and happiness. Maybe joy comes from being given something. Or is it a deeper feeling? People speak about joy at the birth of a new baby, or their joy at becoming engaged or getting married. Joy is about exultant and overwhelming feelings, such as crying for joy or jumping for joy. Those of you who have received good exam results probably know what the latter is about!

It seems that joy comes from somewhere much deeper than just happiness. Joy is more than feeling pleased with something. It is a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment. There could be something causing such a feeling, a source of happiness or even an outward show of pleasure or delight, rejoicing.

Reader 1: Let’s think again about the words in the old Christian song.

Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising.
Give me joy in my heart, I pray.
Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising,
Keep me praising till the break of day.

Leader: The verse is about praising, and praising means making positive statements about people. You know how it feels when a teacher praises you, or when you praise others for their ability. It makes them feel happy with themselves and the job that they have done. Sometimes, we feel let down when people don’t give us praise or positive affirmation about something we feel we have done well. Why don’t you try to praise someone today and see what kind of reaction you get?

Reader 2: The next verse in that song goes like this.

Give me peace in my heart, keep me resting.
Give me peace in my heart, I pray.
Give me peace in my heart, keep me resting,
Keep me resting till the break of day.

This verse talks about peace allowing us to rest. At the end of a busy day, how difficult is it to find the time, the peace and the quiet to rest? Maybe you have younger brothers and sisters who won’t leave you alone. Maybe you are the main carer for a sick relative. Maybe you simply have too much homework! Try to use some time today to find a little bit of peace and quiet and rest. You might feel like doing something else or you might just feel a little better after it.

Reader 3The next verse is about love.

Give me love in my heart, keep me serving.
Give me love in my heart, I pray.
Give me love in my heart, keep me serving,
Keep me serving till the break of day.

Leader: This verse talks about love for yourself, your friends and your family. Remember that love can be expressed in many different ways. How will you express your love for someone today?

Time for reflection

Leader: We reflect on what joy truly means with a quote from Mother Teresa, who found joy in the most unlikely of places.

‘Joy is prayer; joy is strength; joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.’

Can you think of anyone you would describe as ‘joyful?’ Full of joy - what a wonderful way to be!

Let’s all endeavour to be joyful and spill that joy out onto a world that has too many sad people in it.


‘Give me oil in my lamp’ (Come and Praise, 43)

Publication date: November 2017   (Vol.19 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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