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
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?
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 I do need to choose joy/happiness.