“Be joyful always…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
The difference between joy and happiness is substantial. We often assume that the fleeting feeling of happiness, giddy laughter and contentment in the comforts of life is akin to the joy we experience in Jesus. But joy supernaturally sustains our souls in seasons of heartache, injustice, and sorrow. Enduring the valleys of life is nearly impossible without the life-giving fuel of joy in Christ.
There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a reaction to something great. Joy is the product of someone great. Let us never forget the difference, nor fail to enjoy both happiness and joy fully on this earth. Jesus died to erase guilt and shame. Every day we come to Him for grace, and He is faithful to give us grace upon grace upon grace. When we are quick to confess and forgive, we can move forward in the freedom of a repentant life in Christ.
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What Is Joy?
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on earth” (Job 19:25).
Merriam Webster defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” Whereas joy is specifically stated, even in the dictionary, as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; the expression or exhibition of such emotion.”
The Biblical meaning of joy, in contrast, is not a fleeting feeling with worldly roots. The best personification of Biblical joy is the story of Job. He was stripped of every good thing he had on this earth, but never lost his faith in God. Job knew his experience was unfair, and did not sugarcoat his pain. His conversations with God were frank, yet he never forgot who God was. Job 26:7 says, “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.”
Joy is rooted in who God is. “The Spirit of God has made me;” Job 33:4 says, “the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Our Father is fair, compassionate, and all-knowing. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We are wise to pray for our plans to align with His, not just to ask God to bless our intentions. Job possessed the wisdom to know God’s character, and the strong faith to hold onto what he knew to get him through.
That’s the difference between happiness and Biblical joy. Though our lives seem to be falling apart, and we may have every right to fly the victim flag, we instead choose to place our lives in the capable hands of the Father, our Defender. Joy isn’t fleeting, and it doesn’t exit with peachy-keen circumstances. It remains. “The Spirit gives us eyes to see the beauties of Jesus that call joy up out of our hearts,” wrote John Piper.
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What Is the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?
The difference in the Biblical definition of joy is the source. Worldly possessions, accomplishments, even the people in our lives, are blessings that make us happy and fuel joyfulness. However, the source of all joy, is Jesus. God’s plan from the beginning, the Word made flesh to dwell among us is rock solid, allowing us to navigate difficult situations in the absence of happiness, while sustaining our joy.
Happiness is more of a state of mind, while joy is emotionally rooted in our faith in Christ. Jesus has experienced all pain, physically and emotionally. Pastor Rick Warren is quoted as saying “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
Joy allows us perspective to trust God with our daily lives. Happiness is attached to the blessings in our lives. It’s laughter at a funny joke or bliss in accomplishing a goal we’ve worked hard for. We’re happy when our loved ones surprise us, on our wedding day, when our children or grandchildren are born, and when enjoying time with friends or amidst our hobbies and passions.
There is no bell curve to joy like there is happiness. Eventually, we stop laughing. But joy sustains our reactions and fleeting feelings. “Simply put, Biblical joy is choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction because we know that god will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through our lives,” writes Mel Walker for Christinaity.com. Joy allows us the perspective to be grateful and happy, but also to survive trying times by reminding us we’re still loved and cared for no matter what direction our daily life goes. “Happiness is external,” explains Sandra L. Brown, M.A., “It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things and thoughts.”
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Where Does the Bible Talk about Joy?
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
Trials of many kinds aren’t joyful, themselves. But when we understand who God is, and how He works all things for good, we experience the joy of Christ. Joy trusts in who God is, over our abilities and the complications of this world.
James continued, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4). He then goes on to write about wisdom, and asking God for it when we are lacking. Wisdom allows us to wade through trials of many kinds, back to who God is and who we are to Him, and in Christ.
Joy appears more than 200 times in the English Bible, according to David Mathis of Desiring God. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Paul himself tortured Christians before he became one, and then endured all kinds of torture on account of the Gospel. He spoke from experience when he told them to be joyful always, and then he equipped them with how: pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances.
Remembering who God is and what He has done for us in the past, refocusing our thoughts to align with His truth, and choosing to be grateful and praise God - even in tough times - is powerful. It ignites the very Spirit of God living in every believer.
Galatians 5:22-23 reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” We are not able to activate any of those things in any sustaining circumstances without the very Spirit of God in us. He is the source of our joy, which makes it impossible to suppress it.
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Does God Want Us to Be Happy?
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Our Savior Jesus defeated death so we can live free. God not only wants us to be happy, but to experience the all-sustaining and fulfilling joy of life within the love of Christ. “The world believes and feels deeply - we all do in our fleshly nature - it’s pleasant to be served - really pleasant,” explains John Piper. “But it’s not blessed. It’s not joyful. It’s not deeply sweet. It’s not awesomely satisfying. It’s not wonderfully gratifying. No, it’s not.”
God blesses us just because He loves us, extravagantly and lovingly. Sometimes, in ways we know only He knew we needed His help and strength. Yes, when we are at the mountaintop moments of our lives, barely able to believe we are experiencing something beyond our wildest dreams – even the dreams that take much hard work on our part – we can look up and know He is smiling with us, sharing in our happiness. Scripture says His plans for our lives are more than we could ever ask for or imagine. That’s not just happiness, that’s joy.
How Can We Choose Joy in Our Lives?
“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
Joy is ours for the taking! In Christ, we are free! No one can take that freedom away. And with it comes the fruits of the Spirit – among them joy. When we live life within the love of Christ, our lives are no longer our own. We seek to bring glory and honor to God in all we do, trusting His specific purpose for our lives. We welcome God into our daily lives, through prayer, reading His Word, and purposefully noticing the beauty of His creation around us. We love the people He has placed in our lives, and experience that same love from others. The joy of Jesus flows through our lives as we become a channel of living water flowing out to all who witness our lives. Joy is a product of life in Christ.
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A Prayer to Choose Joy
Today we pray to experience Your joy to the FULLEST! We are COMPLETELY FREE in Christ! Remind us and refocus our thoughts when we forget this rock-solid truth! Far beyond the fleeting feeling of happiness, Your joy sustains us, through laughter and sorrow, trial and celebration. You are with us through it all. A true friend, faithful Father, and incredible Counselor. You are our Defender, our Joy, Peace, and Truth. Thank You for Grace. Bless our hearts to be molded by Your compassionate hand, day by day as we look forward to hugging You in heaven.
In Jesus’ Name,
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Meg, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, is the author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” and “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” She writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. Meg earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters, which led her to pursue her passion to write. She has led a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. Meg, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, lives by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.