Happiness and joy: synonyms?

What’s the difference between happiness and joy?

That question crossed my mind recently, as I wonder how happy I am and whether I can do anything about it.

Happiness is a choice, many people believe. I’ve seen posts and books about that, and heard people say it.

I’m not sure I buy it.

Happiness, the way I see it, is the result of doing something that makes us happy.

We can choose to do something that makes us happy, but we can’t choose to be happy all by itself.

Maybe that’s splitting hairs.

According to a couple of official sources, it is splitting hairs.

Merriam-Webster defines “joy” this way:

 

1.a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight

b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety

2: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss

3: a source or cause of delight

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joy

 

The dictionary calls joy an emotion, and basically a synonym for happiness. It also says the first known use of the word came in the 13th century.

Really? It’s in the Bible, written hundreds – if not thousands – of years before the 13th century.

So, I checked another source I go to sometimes, especially with questions about the Bible, gotquestions.org. In its discussion of “Is there a difference between joy and happiness?” are these statements:

 

 

It is common today to hear believers speak of a difference between joy and happiness. The teaching usually makes the following points: 1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not. 2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting. 3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God. 4) Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine. But there is no such distinction made in Scripture, and forcing a distinction between two words that are so obviously close in meaning is unnecessary …

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests we divorce joy from happiness. The two are equal.

Of course, there are different types of joy and happiness. There is a joy that comes from the world, such as “the fleeting pleasures of sin” spoken of in Hebrews 11:25. There is a joy that is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22). There is a temporary happiness and an eternal happiness, but we can call both “happiness.” We don’t need to split hairs between the meaning of joy and happiness. We just need to decide where our joy comes from. Are we happy in the Lord, or are we content with the happiness the world affords?

https://www.gotquestions.org/joy-happiness.html

 

 

So, I guess I am splitting hairs.

I’ve had all four of those thoughts listed in the gotquestions.org explanation. If they aren’t true, then where do those ideas come from?

I do not consider myself a “happy” person. I laugh, but not very often, and never in the routines of life. I don’t get excited or enthusiastic. I can encourage others and hopefully make them feel good about themselves, but I have a hard time doing that for myself.

Emotions are fleeting. They come and go. Happiness follows that track.

If happiness and joy are so closely related, does that mean joy comes and goes, too?

 

James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” Christians can be happy, even in the midst of difficulties, because we know “the testing of our faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (verses 3-4). As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

 

Gotquestions.org includes this paragraph on joy while suffering. Can we really be happy in the midst of difficulties?

Perhaps this is what we Americans are missing today. Many of us do have difficulties. We certainly are angry about a lot of things. We get upset when things don’t go our way.

Even more than that, “good people” suffer, too. People get sick and/or sometimes die far too young. Or God calls home a leader who has influenced many people, and we wonder why, when other people whom we don’t respect as much continue living.

We think like that all the time, don’t we?

God sees the big picture. All of us will die at some point. That’s a guarantee. Very few of us know when death will claim us.

Sometimes, people suffer before they die. Why? I can’t answer that.

Can suffering people be happy? Can suffering people find joy?

I work with almost two dozen adults with developmental disabilities. None of them can live on their own or take care of themselves. All of them have physical and/or mental disabilities that prevent them from living a life that you and I can enjoy.

Yet, I see happiness in my workplace every day. They laugh. They have fun when doing activities they enjoy. When I communicate with a non-verbal individual and we understand each other, both of us feel a joy, a connection, that’s hard to explain.

When two people connect, there’s joy. Friendship deepens. When one person holds back from communicating (that’s usually me), joy does not come.

Perhaps that’s why happiness often eludes me. A great communicator, I’m not.

So, where does my joy come from? As a Christian, I should be “happy in the Lord” all the time. That doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to suffering or to the real issues facing our family, city, nation, world, etc. I should have a joy that helps me see the bigger picture, to help me get through those issues.

Can I be joyful without being happy?

Perhaps not.

Perhaps I do need to choose joy/happiness.

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See the big picture

The devil is in the details.

According to Wikipedia (not my usual first source for details, but useful on occasion), that phrase refers to something that might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.

This applies to numerous issues in today’s America. We get caught up in one or two details that we think make our point, and ignore other details – or, more important, the big picture – which might prove that we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’m becoming more of a big picture person these days. Details are important, of course, but only as they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Let’s start with a couple of Facebook pass-along one-liners that I often ignore, but these two got my attention this time.

Adultery

homosexuality

This post, by an ordained minister, defends homosexuality by saying that it’s not in the Ten Commandments, while adultery is.

My response:

Homosexuality is one form of adultery. Sex outside traditional marriage. You’re right, though; we’ve too often ignored the “traditional” adultery.

That generated a couple of responses:

Yes, traditional marriage such as marrying two of your cousins who happen to be sisters (Genesis 29), or a rape victim being required to marry their aggressor (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

 

I have always thought it a very curious obsession, especially when read within the context of the chapters that surround it (e.g. no shellfish, no mixed garment clothing … I routinely break lots of those, but I don’t see anyone demonizing me for my impure behavior.

Given the objectively far more serious things humans can do to one another (e.g. murder, assault), it just seems like small potatoes for flawed humans to judge other humans so harshly based on what they deem are “bigger” flaws.

Here’s another one:

ignore

Don’t wear clothing of mixed cotton and wool! Leviticus 19:19

As long as we’re looking at “the context of the chapters that surround it,” let’s show that both of these posts do not do that. The Genesis 29 passage refers to Jacob marrying Leah and then Rachel. That wasn’t his first choice, but he followed the rules set by the girls’ father. The man married off his own daughters that way. And in the Genesis time period, when there weren’t very many people around, marrying cousins was not unusual.

The man buying the bride he raped is not “traditional” marriage, nor does the Bible call it that.

The Leviticus passage is even sillier. The quote is just one part of one verse that starts, “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind …” My version of the Bible ends that verse this way: “… nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” (The wool and linen, not cotton, passage is actually Deuteronomy 22:9-11, which proves the person who generated that post didn’t do his research.)

From gotquestions.org is this response:

https://www.gotquestions.org/different-types-of-fabric.html

The rule against wearing different types of fabric was not a moral law. There is nothing inherently wrong with weaving linen and wool together. In fact, the ephod of the high priest was made of linen and dyed thread (Exodus 28:6-8; 39:4-5). The dyed thread would have been made of wool. This fact is probably the key to understanding the prohibition. The ephod of the high priest was the only garment that could be woven of linen and wool. No one else was allowed to have such a garment. Apparently, this rule was to place some distance between the high priest and the people, with the ultimate purpose of reminding Israel of how holy God truly is.

Read the entire Bible before posting such comments. God supports “traditional” marriage, in many places in the Bible, for a reason. We can pick and choose a verse to say just about anything we want it to. But put it in the context of the entire Scriptures, and you’ll understand what it really says.

And God’s holiness is a major theme throughout both Testaments.

There are other big-picture topics that we miss as well.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James

The Cavaliers had a 7-10 won-loss record in March, then lost their last four games of the season in April and gave up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics. Those of us worried about details were afraid that the Cavs weren’t ready for the playoffs as they limped into the post-season.

Not to worry. The players themselves all along were thinking big picture: repeating as NBA champions. They didn’t care, really, about their March record.

So far, they haven’t lost a playoff game yet this year. They swept Indiana and then Toronto, winning eight consecutive games, most of them easily,

Will they win the NBA championship again this year? Time will tell. Their big-picture focus has them prepared to do just that.

Retirement savings

saving

Nearly half of families in the United States have no retirement savings at all, the Economic Policy Institute says.

The median for all families in the U.S., which means half have more and half have less, is $5,000 in retirement savings.

However, according to the EPI, the mean retirement savings of all families is $95,776. That means the rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor, because many of those who have retirement savings have a nice nest egg.

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/12/heres-how-much-the-average-american-family-has-saved-for-retirement.html

We are caught up in an instant-gratification society: I want it, and I want it now. Many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification. Some of us can’t, certainly, but some of us can and just don’t.

We let money control us, rather than taking control of our bank accounts.

More of us need to think long-term. We need to see the big picture.

Driving habits

I encounter this every day. If we would set our alarms five minutes earlier every morning, we might not be in such a hurry to get to work in the morning. Or to hurry back from lunch. Or to hurry … wherever we’re going.

Notice the rest of us, and get where you’re going. Just get there. And let me get to my destination too. I shouldn’t have to slam on my brakes because you can’t control your vehicle.

Here’s another one: I wish we understood that when we’re turning left at a major intersection and we block traffic when the light turns red, we’re causing gridlock. If we truly paid attention to traffic patterns, we’d understand that we’re not getting where we need to go any faster by blocking traffic. Indeed, we’re slowing others – and ourselves – down. Really.

Look up. Pay attention. Observe red as well as green. Things will go smoother. I promise.

Again: Just get there.

Obama’s legacy

obama.jpg

I see posts that say former President Obama was the best president this country has ever had. I’ve seen others that say he was the worst.

Please. Legacies aren’t determined five months after the president leaves office. It takes time, possibly decades, for history to show how a president affected the country.

Obama was the first black president; that’s obvious and historic. What he did, however, will take time to evaluate. That’s true with every president.

The long view

It takes time to read the entire Bible, to win a pro sports championship, to save enough for retirement, to determine a legacy. The devil really is in the details.

Winning long-term is so worth it. Even if I can’t see the results today. Look up. Think big. Think long.

That’s the winning formula.