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Enjoying Joy

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: (6.14 minutes long)


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

    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.

  2. But what does it mean to be joyful?

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

  3. Interestingly, when you type the word ‘joy’ into Google, the first entry is for a wedding planner and the second is for a clothes store by that name. Do these make us think about the correct meanings for the word ‘joy’?

  4. Weddings are happy occasions, but do we all find joy in shopping? Many people do get pleasure from buying things and owning them.

    Joy is linked with pleasure and happiness. Maybe we have recently been to a wedding and had a great day celebrating. Maybe we can pinpoint the last time we purchased something that brought us joy and happiness. Maybe joy comes from being given something.

    Or is joy a deeper feeling? People often speak about joy at the birth of a new baby. Joy is about exultant and overwhelming feelings, such as crying for joy or jumping for joy. Those of us who have received good exam results probably know what the latter is about!

  5. It seems that joy comes from somewhere much deeper than 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.

  6. Reader 1: Let’s go back to 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.

  7. Leader: The verse is about praising, which means making positive statements about people. We know how it feels when a teacher praises us, or when we praise others: it makes the hearer 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 that we feel we have done well.

    Why don’t you try to praise someone today and see what kind of reaction you get?

  8. Reader 2: The next verse in the Christian 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.

  9. Leader: This verse talks about peace enabling us to rest. At the end of a busy day, how difficult is it to find the time, the peace and quiet, to rest? Maybe we have younger brothers and sisters who won’t leave us alone. Maybe we are the main carer for a sick relative. Maybe we simply have too much homework!

    Let’s try to use some time today to find a little bit of peace and quiet, and rest. We might feel like doing something else or we might just feel a little better after it.

  10. Reader 3: The next verse in the Christian song 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.

  11. Leader: This verse talks about love for ourselves, our friends and our family. Remember that love can be expressed in many different ways.

    How will you express your love for someone today?

Time for reflection

We reflect on what joy truly means with a quotation from Mother Teresa, who found joy in the unlikeliest 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.

But what if we don’t feel joyful today, or we haven’t felt joyful for a long time? Remind the students that there are people to talk to in school. Encourage them to speak with a friend or trusted adult. Remind them of the pastoral care structures in place.


‘Ode to joy’ from Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, available at: (6.14 minutes long)

Publication date: August 2023   (Vol.25 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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