According to St. Thomas joy is a type of pleasure.  Pleasure is what we experience when we obtain a desired good.  Example: I experience pleasure when I eat food when I am hungry. Joy is pleasure at the level of intellect in contrast to pleasure at the level of sense. Whether it is derived from a good meal or from sex or drugs, this latter is always transient.  Joy is a more abiding pleasure, going beyond the senses. Joy does not so much delight the emotions as lend satisfaction to the intellect.

It is because it goes beyond the senses that joy can co-exist with physical discomfort and with struggle, and even pain.  The prime example is that of the martyrs who could be joyful even as they faced cruel suffering and death.  They were focused on soon obtaining what they considered the highest good: union with their Savior-God.

Saint Peter in his first letter (1: 6-7) speaks of how joy and suffering co-exist.  “This is a great joy to you, even though for a short time you must bear all sorts of trials; so that the worth of your faith, more valuable than gold, which is perishable, even if it has been tested by fire, may be proved – to your praise and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Joy involves the ability to keep things in the proper perspective, in the context of what is truly important i.e. one’s salvation.

The Christian must be a person of hope, believing that the good God has promised will be accomplished.  In fact, faith tells us that Jesus, through his suffering and death, has already won our salvation, that victory over sin and death has been achieved.  The greatest gift is already within our grasp.  Our sins are washed away in the blood of Christ.  Eternal life has been made available.

Every Christian, even in the face of life’s inevitable pains, struggles and doubts, ought to
be a person of joy.  Joy is ultimately a sign of trust in God, the conviction that all things
are in his hands.  That joyful trust in God’s providence is reflected in some of the hymns
we sing at liturgical celebrations. There is the beautiful Ode to Joy: Joyful, joyful, we
adore thee…. Well-spring of the joy of living.”  And we sing of our trust: “I know that my
Redeemer lives, that I shall rise again.”