Joy and happiness: They aren’t the same

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I saw a plaque in a store the other day that read, “Happiness is a choice.” I don’t think so. We choose to do things that make us happy. Happiness is a result, not a cause.

When we say we are pursuing happiness (which the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to do), we really are pursuing joy. Most of the time, anyway.

I did some research on happiness and joy; there are quite a few articles out there that contrast and compare them.

Happiness is temporary, fleeting; we are happy when we buy something we like, win the lottery or spend time around people we enjoy. The opposite of happiness is unhappiness or misery.

Joy is deep, long-lasting and not dependent on our circumstances. We can have joy even if things go wrong. The opposite of joy is fear.

I have been unemployed for most of 2015. I certainly am not happy about that. Happiness is an emotion. I try not to get too emotional about life, happy or sad, high or low, up or down. I keep plugging along.

I count many blessings in my life. This is joy. There are things I can hold on to even when life is difficult.

Joy is hard to describe. It’s not a feeling that ebbs and flows, rises and falls. It’s just there, deep within our souls. It’s a comfort that even if the world crashes around us, all is not lost.

From,, “Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is temporary. Joy is an inner, conscious belief. Happiness is external – something people may feel for a short time, for example, when they buy something that they desire.

“Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment when someone is in the middle of a life storm. Happiness is not present in a life storm.

“A person’s genetic baseline level of happiness is fixed on the personality style in which he or she was born and can increase over time.”

So, some of us have a higher “baseline level of happiness” than others of us do. If I buy something I desire, my happiness will increase, but only for a time, and then I will return to my “baseline.” This is why we say, “Money does not buy happiness.” We will never be satisfied if seeking more money is our life goal. We’ll get excited when we reach a goal, but then we’ll need to reach another goal to be happy again.

From the same online article:

“Being joyful requires feeling connected to other people in life, with nature, also by appreciating the arts, and it requires an acceptance of life as it is, in the present. Sometimes life does not treat us well – financial devastation, becoming ill, a divorce, developing a chronic illness, becoming disabled, death of a loved one or adapting to growing older. Everyone will have these challenges in varying degrees until the day they die.

“Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment, despite life’s challenges. Joy is an internal lasting emotional condition.

“When someone experiences joyfulness, physiological and biochemical alterations occur that encourage a sense of well-being, altering the negative views of life. Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.

“Joy in the Biblical context is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life, but is an attitude of the heart or spirit.

“There is evidence that suggests having a religious belief helps people cope with the stresses and strains of life.

“Therefore, to answer the question: Is there a relationship between happiness and joy? In the Biblical sense, the answer is no.

“Happiness is not the emotion that many strive to find and keep; this emotion is joy. No one is happy all of the time, but some are more content and at peace.

“Studies on what makes people happy reveal that it does not have much to do with material goods or high achievement. Joy seems to be to one’s outlook on life and the quality of his or her relationships, along with the ability to give and receive.”

For example, says, if one wins a lottery of $10,000, he would be very happy, but if that person works hard and sets up his business and earns $10,000, he would feel joy. Though the ultimate benefit is the same, the cause, being different, makes the final emotion different.

Here’s another way to try to explain it, from Danielle LaPorte:

Happiness is like rising bubbles – delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen – ever present.

So, as Christmas approaches, what are we really seeking? I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV last night, a classic I’ve seen many times. Charlie Brown is not happy, and he can’t explain why. Lucy says he needs involvement, so he directs the Christmas play.

The story revolves around the Christmas tree Charlie Brown buys for the play – a lame little thing with falling needles. His friends laugh, because they wanted him to buy a pink artificial tree that keeps up with the times.

But when his friends consider Charlie Brown’s unhappiness, now caused by their response to his purchase of the tree, they discover something. Joy. They found the good in that little tree. In the end, they thanked Charlie Brown for it.

That’s what joy is: Finding the good in life, even when it seems like it’s all falling apart. Happiness can’t hold a candle to that.

Merry Christmas. I hope you find joy this month – and every month. Regardless of how many presents are under your tree.


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