Happiness vs. Joy?
What’s the Difference?
Happiness and joy seem at first glance to be very similar emotions, but upon further examination are actually very different. Happiness is often related to the superficial and is an outward expression of the circumstances around us. Happiness is temporal and only exists when everything seems to be going right in our lives. We are happy when we receive a gift, go on a trip, eat a nice meal and find ourselves healthy. But joy on the other hand is an internal emotion, that is not based on any superficial experience. Joy is a continual deep peace in a person’s inner being that all is well regardless of difficult circumstances. Joy can be experienced by those who never receive gifts, never get to go on trips, don’t have enough food to eat, or even find themselves sick and in much pain. The Apostle Paul illustrates this point clearly when he was imprisoned and chained between two soldiers awaiting execution. He was able to say, “Rejoice, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4).
Joy is a Gift from God
The most significant difference however between happiness and joy is how they are acquired. Joy is not discovered in a textbook, found on a beach, or saved in a bank account. At the very root, joy is a supernatural gift from God granting a person peace that his or her life is right with God. While every person will experience happiness in the world at some time and at some level, only those who are right with God can truly experience real joy. Sadly, many in the world will never experience what the Bible calls true joy. Many will plod through a difficult life and be forever miserable. But there is an invitation to everyone to come to the true source of joy, Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that when a person forsakes their sin, and puts their trust in Jesus Christ they are “born again” (Jn 3:1-16). This new birth is a radical transformation of a person when the life of God enters into the soul of man. To say it explicitly, the third member of the God-head, the Holy Spirit, enters into a believer. With that radical divine takeover of a person’s life, comes inevitable blessings. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit gives “gifts” to the one who is born again. And those gifts are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22, Rom 15:13). Notice that “joy” is one of the gifts among many others. While happiness may be learned or even purchased, notice that joy must be received. The Scripture teaches that joy is a gift from God and is a strength to those who have it (Neh 8:10).
How Can I Have More Joy?
Once God has given you this supernatural joy, can this joy increase? The answer is absolutely! Jesus said that He came so that His joy could be “in us” and that our “joy would be made full” (Jn 15:11).
The Bible gives many ways, but here are three fundamental ways the Bible teaches believers to increase joy in their heart. And we shouldn’t be surprised that they all revolve around how we relate to God and His Word. First, stay away from evil. The very first and foundational Psalm tells us, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). The word “blessed” is actually a plural in the Hebrew and stresses the fact that those who do what is stated will experience the “blessednesses” or blessings of God. The Psalmist calls God’s people to follow Him wholeheartedly and avoid relationships that leave God out of their lives. Three plans of action are presented: 1) guard your mind by not listening to worldly wisdom rather than God’s wisdom, 2) don’t participate in sinful behavior, and 3) don’t make deep friendships with those who disbelieve and scoff at God’s Word. Joy can be increased by avoiding evil through a growing knowledge of God, and application of His Word to our lives.
Second, simply obeying the commands of God bring more joy. The Psalmist says, “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Ps 19:8). God tells us “blessed are those who keep my ways” (Prov 8:32). Disobedience to God will certainly rob a believer of the joy of the Lord, but on the other hand obedience to God can bring about rejoicing! We should never view God’s commands as a burden, but rather we should realize that His Word is given to us for “our good” (Deut 10:12-13). God wants us to be full of joy and His Word is a road map to the fullness of joy. While our salvation is secure, our disobedience grieves the Holy Spirit within us (Eph 4:30). King David understood this clearly after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. Once he repented of his sin, he diligently prayed to the Lord, “restore to me the joy of my salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps 51:12). When we are tempted to disobey God, we must remember that Satan’s promises are lies! It is God’s commands that are designed to give us greatest rejoicing.
Third, more joy comes by trusting in the Lord. Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Prov 16:20). From experience we know that anxiety strips us of joy and unbelief can paralyze us. The measure of our joy can be determined by where we place our trust. Paul tells us clearly to rejoice, but then tells us that we can rejoice because we put our trust in God. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-7). Instead of worrying, we must go to the sovereign King of the universe and make our requests known. Knowing that He is in control, He promises to give us peace which will guard our hearts and minds. This is the only way we can “consider it all joy” when we experience all kinds of trials (James 1:2). We can willfully choose joy in any circumstance because we know that God is in control and working out the details of our lives.