Happiness And Joy: One And The Same?

Let me begin by sharing what prompted my selection of topic this week. It all started with watching a short video. A young gentleman performed a skit where his friend (also played by him) came in and was complaining how bad things are and how everyone just wants to be happy. He countered by stating this quest for happiness was the problem. He then broke down how happiness and joy are not the same. It got me wondering.

Why do we pursue happiness yet find joy?

When I think of pursuing something, I think of an elaborate chase scene in a movie (of course I do). It’s like a fugitive on the run and I’m in hot pursuit. It may be slick and put on various disguises to avoid detection. It may try to blend into a crowd, so I can’t locate it. It’s elusive. In short, I’m working very hard and it’s basically leading or calling all the shots. I’m not really in control, am I? Sure, I’m tracking it and trying to predict its next move, but ultimately, the best I can hope for is that it makes a mistake I can use to my advantage. Bottom line: it sounds like a lot of effort on my part with no guaranteed upside. I may never catch it in the end.

Let’s contrast that with finding something. Is there any greater feeling than when we find something we lost? My body relaxes, my mind stops racing, I can breathe again. The panic subsides. The frantic searching, the retracing steps, the looking through the same drawer ten times is now over. I can dry my eyes (because I’ve usually had a complete, hysterical meltdown) and carry on. And whatever value I once placed upon the lost item has now multiplied exponentially.

Happiness is often circumstantial which means it can be fleeting.

Some may argue you can create your own happiness. You don’t need anyone or anything else. Can you though? Are you able to just wake up and determine to be happy? You can certainly try, I suppose. I’ve aspired to such a feat, and even attempted it a time or two. I did fantastic until I got out of bed and my feet hit the floor.

Happiness is a feeling.

Perhaps that’s its biggest shortcoming. Emotions are a tricky business. How we feel about anything can be subject to change depending on events, people, hormones (ladies, you know what I’m talking about). Happiness, like any emotion, can be transient and difficult to hold onto or maintain.

Isn’t joy a feeling too? 

I don’t believe it is. It’s often used interchangeably with happiness, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. I believe joy is something deeper and greater than feeling happy. I also believe there’s a joy once found which can never be taken away.

I wanted your input for this piece, so I reached out on social media and posed the question: do the two words mean the same thing? I was so grateful for those who took time to respond. I read through each comment, and it was fascinating. Some folks felt the two were related. Others didn’t. Some tied faith into their definitions.

As a Christian, my faith infuses every aspect of my life. I try to adhere to what I learn from studying the scriptures. Some may call it a crutch. My respectful reply would be if you knew the best chef in the world put out a cookbook, wouldn’t you follow the recipes? Sure, your dish may not come out exactly the same as theirs, but you’ve got a much better chance of success than if you tried to guess all the ingredients, measurements, prep and cooking times on your own. Just saying.

You know I brought recipes…I mean receipts. (Any and all Bible verses, unless otherwise indicated are from biblegateway.com, NIV, emphasis added.)

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

This verse describes where joy is found: in God’s presence. What does that mean? I’m so glad you asked. Many think you must be in church or some other formal religious environment to encounter His presence. I respectfully disagree. God’s presence can be anywhere, because He’s God and omnipresent. The real question is how do we tap into it? It’s not hard at all. I’ve been in His presence in my bedroom, on a nature walk, in a friend’s living room, in my car, and even in a church. The physical location is basically irrelevant. God meets us wherever we are. What I love about joy is I wasn’t looking for it when I found it in Him. I just wanted to get to know the God who created me and His Son who died for me. Joy just showed up as I spent time with Him.

I found joy when I wasn’t even looking for it.

From personal experience, I will tell you there is nothing greater than the joy felt in His presence. I don’t know if there are words to describe it. It’s beyond any emotional or physical high. It’s more than feeling happy. It’s a state of perfect peace, tranquility, gratitude, pure love. It’s amazing. I highly recommend you try it.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Can joy be strength? According to this verse, it absolutely can. How can that be? I’m so very glad you always ask such excellent questions. Here’s what I know from my own life. When you know whose you are, you can handle more than you thought you ever could. It’s difficult to articulate, but it just reframes your whole view on everything. When you know God loves you and Jesus sacrificed Himself for you, and you truly believe it, you walk differently. You’re so grateful and want to show your appreciation. You want to spend time in His presence which then fills you with joy. That infilling gives you a boldness, a strength, a security. It doesn’t mean you won’t face challenges or difficulties though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Check this out:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

Say what now?

I’m supposed to call it all joy when I’ve lost my job and my bills are past due? Yes. But surely it can’t be joy when my child is rebelling, or my marriage is struggling? That too.

I know how crazy it sounds. The first time I read this verse I didn’t know what to make of it. Surely, there must have been a typo, or somebody took the dictation down incorrectly. Nope. Now if I’m being honest, I can safely say sometimes I wish the faith testing part was over. Can I just get my diploma and graduate? Haven’t I learned enough lessons? Nope.

As I stated earlier, it’s about reframing everything through the lens of knowing the Lord loves you and made you on purpose for a purpose. He allows certain situations to occur, some painful and some downright awful, because He sees beyond that moment. He’s all-seeing and all-knowing. It doesn’t make the event hurt less, but it gives us a place to go, a place to cry out, and a place for our faith to increase. The beautiful part is as our faith grows certain trials don’t hit the same way anymore. Once I learned how God provides for my health and finances (which is a whole topic for a piece someday soon), I developed a confidence in those areas. Doesn’t mean I still don’t get a little nervous when I don’t know how He’s going to come through. But now I know He will come through. There’s great comfort and strength in that knowledge.

Right now, you may be thinking this whole joy thing is pretty interesting, how do I find it? Well, we’ve already seen it comes from God and being in His presence. But did you know it’s also a product of the Holy Spirit? Check this out:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Can I just state I’d be eating that fruit all day every day, and I don’t really like fruit! It gives me some gastrointestinal issues. But I digress. I included this verse because I wanted you to see how much we all need the Holy Spirit. We can love Jesus and fear God, but the Holy Spirit is His very essence. I’ve said before it’s our superpower. When we say Christ lives on the inside of us, it’s His Spirit we’re talking about. When we ask Him into our hearts and lives, (because He’s a gentleman and would never force Himself on us) it’s an absolute game changer. Again, I speak from personal experience. I loved God and believed in Jesus, but when I was filled with the Holy Spirit, it went beyond next level.

He gives you insight, wisdom, discernment. He’s better than a conscience. And did you see the fruit you get to enjoy?! I mean, come on, who’s not in for some: love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Sign me up!

Does this mean I’m frolicking all day with those fruits just spilling out of me? Absolutely not. Are there still many areas I’m weak in and need more of His help? Certainly. What it means is all these attributes, these wonderful characteristics are available to us. It will always be our decision whether we partake or not. Free will never goes away. We always have a choice.

As I close, here’s what I see is the biggest difference between happiness and joy. Happiness can come and go. Joy once given to you by God is always yours to access. Circumstances may change, people may hurt or disappoint you, but you will always have what is sometimes referred to as joy unspeakable. It’s a joy no one can ever really take away. It’s an inner spark, if you will, an eternal flame. It can’t be put out by human hands because it wasn’t put there by them. And when you feel your light starting to dim, you just have to enter His presence once more to stoke the fire He put inside of you. It’s a fire of joy, of strength, of power. And it will definitely make you feel happy. But when the feeling fades, His joy continues to burn inside you carrying you through every good and terrible season.

Until next time: stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know. May you have a Holy Spirit invasion and get your fruits in today!

Look forward to hearing from you.


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