Happiness vs. joy …

I said in an earlier post that I’d say something about “happiness vs. joy.”  Sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.  Life, you know.

I’ve heard somewhere that the word “happiness” was derived from the same root as the word “happening” … so I guess if you follow that line of reasoning, then happiness is probably based upon what’s happening.  Happy things happen … and then you’re happy.

But joy is something else entirely.

And then if you’re talking about the “joy of the Lord,” then it isn’t only something different, it’s an entirely separate realm of experience.  Joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s ability to grow fruit in our lives isn’t dependent on happy circumstances (actually, I find it often quite the opposite).

Anyway, this “happiness vs. joy” conversation is sort of a touchy subject for me lately.  I had someone in the past year or so question whether or not I was really a Christian (this was someone I’d only recently met so he didn’t have the perspective of seeing my life in anything but the context of the difficulties we were in at the time).

His reasoning went something like this:

“Joy is a fruit of the Spirit … so anyone who has the Holy Spirit within them will have joy because the fruit will just naturally grow.  Since I don’t see joy in your life, you must not have the Holy Spirit.  So you can’t be a Christian if you don’t have the Holy Spirit.”  (To put it in context, this statement was made to me shortly after my husband’s diagnosis and while we were still dealing with my husband’s uncontrolled rages and frightening behaviors in our home … can you say, “Stressed out!”?)

Fortunately, I realized at the time that this person was confusing “joy” with “happiness.”  It’s true that I wasn’t particularly happy at that moment in time in my life.  But I did have joy.  Joy to know that somehow, someway, somewhere God would work all this horrible stuff I was living with for good.  Joy to know that even if life continued on just as badly as it was right then for the rest of my earthly life, this life isn’t the “end” of the story.  I was living with that saying, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future,” running continually through my head.

The Bible says that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross.  I don’t think Jesus was necessarily “happy” while He was tortured and endured a painful, cruel death.  But did Jesus have joy in the midst of it all?  Oh, I’m sure He did … joy to know that His sacrifice would work the Ultimate Good in humankind (allowing all of us an opportunity to find forgiveness and peace with God).  Joy to know that this life isn’t all there is.  Joy to have accomplished what He’d been sent to do.

When I told a pastor friend of mine what was said to me about how I probably wasn’t a Christian because I didn’t have “joy” in my life in the midst of the trials I was facing, my pastor friend said, “Oh my gosh, Debi!  That person doesn’t know you AT ALL!  The joy of the Lord IS your strength!  Your faith and the joy that brings you is the main reason you’ve gotten through all of this as well as you have!  That man is confusing happiness with joy.  And they’re not the same things at all.”

Exactly.  It was really nice to have someone who knows me well, offer some sane perspective in the midst of that crazy time.

So. Happiness vs. joy.  I like to be happy (who doesn’t?), but I’d rather have joy any day.  Joy lasts even in the midst of the trials of life.  Joy isn’t dependent on circumstances.  Joy is strength.  Joy is internal.  Joy is eternal.

Even though my heart is breaking … even though I’ve lost my hopes and dreams and plans and material things … I can (and do!) still have joy.  There might not always be a smile on my face, but on a deeper, soul-stirring level, there’s joy in my heart; joy in my spirit.

Not the happiness of happenings.

The joy of the Lord.


Despite trying circumstances, can we trust that God is still good?   Next in the series:  God is Good

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39 thoughts on “Happiness vs. joy …

  1. From your writing, I see you to be a very true, very strong Christian. You have the very strong unwaivering belief, that shows the joy in your heart.
    As you say, I am sure Jesus was not happy during his final tormented hours, but he maintained the love of God and joy in his heart.
    The struggles with daily life and you certainly have more than your share, can cause us to be unhappy. This in not way reflects on the joy in our hearts.
    You are in my heart thoughts and prayers.
    Bill

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  2. Debi,
    You are lucky to know yourself and your heart so well. Others often make thoughtless comments I think because of their own insecurities. And I agree, I would take joy any day over happiness.
    WC

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  3. It annoys me to see that there are some people who are quick to give assumptions or judgments about certain things or people they know nothing about. Perhaps, as writerchick said, it is to hide their insecurities, or maybe it’s to show off “wisdom” they don’t really have, either way, I commend you for being able to move past what was said about you. If it were me, I probably would have obsessed about it for days. :p Cheerio!

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  4. this was really well put, hon! the prophet habbakuk had joy in the midst of famine and drought. the apostle paul said he knew how to abound and knew how to be abased. it was the joy of the Lord.
    joy is really like a fountain in the midst of ones soul. like a spring that continues, no matter how one may feel emotionally.
    you really put it very well.
    kïrstin

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  5. Consider yourself in good company because Jesus was accused of being ‘possessed’, consorting with sinners and breaking Sabbath laws.
    Psalm 23:4 tells us we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death (but we are to fear no evil because He is with us).
    You know the valley of the shadow of death but your accuser has yet to ‘go through the deep trouble’ but they will and they will be humbled in rememberance of their foolish talk to you.


    Hi, Melinda …

    Thank you for the words of encouragement. I think I’m coming to understand that it’s definitely possible to learn things from watching other people’s lives, but there’s a whole ‘nother level of depth, understanding, wisdom and insight that comes from being the person actually living through something.

    I remember praying a long time ago for wisdom. Oh my. What was I thinking? I guess I forgot what that path sometimes looks like. But would I go back to not knowing the lessons I’ve learned — even though they’re difficult and I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy? No way.

    God will never leave me nor foresake me … and He’ll never let awful things happen without somehow, some way, working it together for good ultimately. Maybe I’ll never even know the ultimate good that will come from these things I’m experiencing with my husband’s illness, but I know it’s true that He won’t waste a single tear. (Can’t wait to see that bottle He’s storing my tears in! Another Great Lake, perhaps!)

    ~Debi

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  6. Hello, Debi.

    Thanks for stumbling upon my blog, for I would not have found out about yours. It is interesting that we wrote about the same topic. While my post was more philosophical in its approach, you put it into a more practical perspective. Great!

    I want to encourage you about the person who doubted your Christianity. Maybe the purpose of his words was for God to remind you or to bring into your working consciousness that his joy is with you, despite all the challenging things that are going on. Anyway, the true judge of who is a Christian is God himself, so his thoughts are the only ones that ultimately matter.

    I’d like to link to your blog. I hope this is ok.

    Hi, Rosemary …

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s definitely okay with me if you link to my blog … I linked to yours in my blogroll, as well. :-)

    ~Debi

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  7. Thanks for this post! I’m speaking on joy vs. happiness tonight at a college meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ and I wasn’t sure what to say…your post was such a great help!

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  8. hi… this is really a great post… actually most of the time i asked also myself, the difference between happiness and joy.. according to Mr.Webster
    Joy-is a feeling of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.
    Happiness- a feeling of pleasure, showing contentment or joy.Thanks for enlightening my mind, that joy is more everlasting than happiness…
    Godbless

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  9. I’m a Lutheran pastor and tomorrow is the third Sunday in Advent or “Pink Candle Sunday.” The Latin word for the Sunday is “Gaudete Sunday” or rejoicing Sunday. My theme from 1 Thess 5:16 is “The Choice to Rejoice.” I was grappling with the distinction between happiness and joy. Your blog was very helpful. Martin Luther once wrote, “We can mark our lack of faith by our joy, for our joy must necessarily be as great as our faith.” Yet, there were many times when Luther was not a “happy camper.” Most certainly the same was true for our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul – yet our Lord Jesus desired that our joy might be full and the Apostle Paul, in the midst of his suffering wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

    Thanks for your thought and continue to make the choice to rejoice…

    Blessings!

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  10. I was preparing a Bible study on the topic Joy and I was meant to differentiate between joy and happiness. Your article helped me a great deal.

    Your story is a big encouragement to me knowing that someone is going through similar experience that I am going through (my son has been ill for over 4 years). Sometimes I feel quite unhappy about the whole situation and a bit stressed up but I chose to still have joy despite all we have been through. After reading your article and another article I had read before yours I have even resolved to have greater joy.

    Do not be discouraged about what people say about you. The Lord will see you through and make your joy to be full as long as you hold unto Him.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your God-given wisdom and words! I always feel guilty for being down. I feel like I have to remind myself of why I should be joyful, but now I understand I was confusing joy with happiness. Thank you for reminding me that we are just strangers and pilgrims on the earth . . . God bless you, your blog and the people reading your blog!

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  12. I am preparing a sermon for the youth in my church on Joy & Happiness & I am gald I stumbled upon you site.
    I have been thinking alot lately about it & what you shared from your life experiences confirmed my thoughts in very many ways. I thank God for your sharing and I pray that I would have the inner strength that can only comes from the joy of the Lord to face all my trials. And I pray that the joy of the Lord will continue to be w/ you.

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  13. I thought you’d be encouraged to know that in a discussion of happiness vs joy and the book of Philippians *this week,* one of my daughters shared this post with her friends.

    You made an impact for good. Lasting good.

    Thanks for letting me know! How sweet. :-) ~Debi

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  14. Hi Debi,
    I’ve never written in a blog before so bare with me.
    I’m a Christian, and I Love the Lord very much!
    I’m a veteran and I deal with PTSD……….
    I have been struggling with happiness and forgot all about the “Joy of the Lord”. Just forgot about that inner joy.
    So…………… I thought my only exit from this lack of “happiness” was just “punch out”………..suicide as an escape. Till I read your great words…………

    You have given me alot to think about………….I’m not a very happy person………..but I think I can be a “joyful” son of the King.

    Be Blessed, Boomer

    Hey, Boomer … thanks so much for writing! Your note was just the encouragment I needed today. To know my lame attempt at sharing what God has taught me through all the garbage of life has actually made a difference in someone else’s life is meaningful beyond what words can express. And I definitely know what you mean about not being “happy” but having joy in the Lord. Hang in there! PTSD is the pits, isn’t it? I struggle with the ramifications of it everyday, too.
    ~Debi

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    • Hi Boomer, thanks for letting Debi know what a difference her words have made. Debi, thanks for taking time to articulate the God-given wisdom with your heartfelt words. You both made a difference to me today.
      Best,
      Judith

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  15. Debi, thanks from one PTSD’er to another……… until you have been in that barren territory there is no understanding of the pits and valleys of dispare that you/we fall into………. but the joy of the Lord is our way out in His strength……..if I understand your words correctly. Debi, I’ll say a prayer for you and your situation that only you and Jesus know.

    Be Blessed, Boomer
    (Boomer (nick name) means: I refueled planes in the air “Boom” for “boom operator” “air refueling”)

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  16. this is awesome…i like it very much..well..recently..we have our own reflection about joy and happiness…and I’m a little bit disappointed that it doesn’t make sense at all..that’s why i surf the net and found your journal..you know…this is very interesting…I’m glad and thankful..it did help me a lot to know the difference between joy and happiness..not only that..it also made me realize that i should not seek happiness at all..but live with joy..thanks for sharing this one..MAY THE JOY OF THE GOD CONTINUE TO BE WITH YOU..

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  17. Hi Debi,

    Thanks 4 the wonderful write up…I have been studying the differences between Joy and Happiness and just stumbled upon your blog. I just learnt from you that “we have happiness BECAUSE of our situation, we have joy IN SPITE OF our situation”

    God bless

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  18. Debi and Boomer, you are both inspirational. Thank you for sharing here about happiness versus joy. You have helped a lot of people, including me. I am passing this link along to several people.

    I hope you are getting some help with your PTSD. It is a treatable and beatable illness–it doesn’t have to be permanent! But unless it reaches a crisis state, like suicidal impulses or severe depression (and sometimes even then), PTSD often goes untreated. Therefore, many people live with the pain and disruption for years on end without getting help.

    One of the steps for recovery is to educate yourself about this condition. You probably know that trauma is processed in the sensory part of the brain, which is why the triggers are sounds, smells, visual or tactile, and why traditional “talk therapy” may not help until you can deal effectively with the sensory triggers. I stumbled into this link: http://www.giftfromwithin.org/. I don’t know enough about that organizaiton to recommend them, but it looked like an interesting resource.

    I got help from a practitioner from the National Institute for Trauma and Loss for Children (TLC). My practitioner works with both adults and children. She is a volunteer so my sessions were free. Most of her clients experienced sexual assault, but the rest have had a wide range of traumatic experiences.

    Bless you both in your voyage as you help others and, hopefully, conquer PTSD!
    Judith

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  19. Debi-I’m so glad I found this post. Having gone through recent stress in our family, I have struggled immensely with the happiness vs. joy debate. I do feel that inner joy..but that has been so hard to explain to people in my life. Happiness is not as easy for me, whether it’s because I’m so reserved and introspective or because sometimes life is overwhelming. I think that’s where I get tripped up by our culture (“pursuit of happiness”) and the Christians in my life who believe God blesses our lives with “happiness” if we are living our life the way He wants us to. I see people around me finding happiness sometimes in the wrong things. I often wonder if God’s blessings include some of the things I see people finding their happiness in-material objects, vacations, etc. Happiness sometimes seems so fleeting and fickle to me. I’ve learned from some life experiences that joy is abiding and even on my worst day that it is still there.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  20. Thank you for the sharing, i was once confused with happiness and joy. But now i feel better because you’ve let me know that joy is strength and faith, so im definitely sure that i have joy in me and that’s the joy of the Lord. At least, im not the only one who felt that why like how you felt. Praise the Lord.

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    • Hi Annie,
      Happiness and Joy do sound the same don’t they.
      But happiness is here and there and fleeting and is caught up in our feelings (external).
      But! Joy is continuous and forever in Jesus and locked away safely in our spirit (internal).
      And no you are not the only one who “feels” the way you do sometimes.
      I often get lost in the fog of searching for happiness, but Jesus cuts through that fog with His light, and I am lead on to Joy.
      Hang in there, you are not alone, you are a part of the
      Body Of Christ!!
      Remember, You! can do all things “in” Christ! (internal)

      Be Blessed, Boomer

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  21. as you say, happiness is what makes you feel good – it is an extremely selfish experience and as soon as circumstances change, it vanishes. for instance killing jews seems to have made hitler happy, as soon as it was his turn to die we must surmise he did not appreciate it very much, his happiness was gone. i use this extreme example because one man’s happiness can be the other man’s sorrow. which begs the question whether ‘universal’ happiness is not akin to what we refer to as morality… i drift…
    Jesus Christ is joy. He is our hope and God’s ONLY guarantee of salvation and being in His presence forever – in other words if you just have that fuzzy feeling about God which you think is joy and it is not in Christ, it still is only happiness and is guaranteed to let you down – forever…
    God bless in Christ
    gabriel

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  22. Hi Debbie,

    Great Article, I recently also had a minor run in over the use the words Happy and Joy, Joy to me the permanent bubling over that the Holy Spirit gives us when we accpet Jesus as our LORD and savour. Happiness is a temporary emotion that occurs when encounter something that may make as smile, Thus my joy in the LORD is there despite my being unhappy. But a can be happy (over having enough monet etc) with out experiencing the true Joy of the LORD. May our LORD Jesus continue to sue and pour out his Joy into your life.

    God Bless,

    Steve.

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  23. Hi, I absolutely agree with you. I have experience the difference between Joy and Happiness after many years of developing a close relationship with our almightily God and Lord Jesus Christ. Happiness is temporary and Joy is everlasting. Happiness is an external triggered event; Joy is an inner triggered event due to your close relationship with God. Once you have cultivated that close and unique relationship with our God and you learn that it can only be maintained through continues praying and meditation with God and making him the center of our life, it’s a great and everlasting feeling that no one can ever replace but God.

    God Bless You All.

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  24. I have researched, discussed, and thought about this very subject for years now and am about to embark on writing a book about it. You all are so very right about many of the attributes that differentiate happiness from joy. Most importantly you understand that happiness is temporary, fleeting, unpredictable, and dependent upon so many things outside ourselves and completely beyond our control. Joy on the other hand is eternal, durable, predictable, and almost totally dependent upon internal controllable things like attitude, truth, love and faith.
    I wish I had the room here to give the true and complete definitions of happiness and joy but I think a short definition would only create more questions than answers in a forum like this. I will suggest a few more differences between the two terms though. Most happiness has to do with “feeling” good (and feeling good about one’s self and about others). Joy has more to do with “being” good, doing good, and becoming all that our Creator created us to be. In other words, Joy is fulfilling the full measure of one’s creation… one’s destiny. Happiness is found in changing ourselves into whatever we think we want to become… and changing our surroundings to facilitate that. Joy is found in the discovery of who we are, what we really are, why we are, and then letting God the Father and Mother Universe teach us and develop us into what we were truly created from the very beginning to eventually become. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a state of being. We feel happiness. We are joy. Happiness will come and go. Joy can be ours forever.
    I hope that clarified things a little. My book is still a couple of years away so feedback is still timely and very welcome.

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  25. Hi There,

    Thanks for great article, as a Christian Worker, we need to know that Happiness is self centered and temporary, Joy is external and something we want others to have.

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  26. I’ve been poundering on how to differentiate joy frm happiness all the while but its abit difficult because its philosophical.But now through this article,i quite understood it. May God comtinue to bless you.Thanks

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  27. Just wanted to add my 2 cents that your blog is still helping people — in my case as I prepare for my sermon on Joy this Sunday and googled Happiness or Joy, I was happy to stubble upon your thoughts and will share them with the folks on Sunday.

    Peace, hope and love

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  28. While joy and happiness are not quite the same, they are quite similar. The word(s) translated joy in the bible could very easily be translated as happiness… I’m rather doubtful of the existence of much joy where there is no happiness. This doesn’t mean anyone who isn’t always happy isn’t saved, we all go through trials. But it is true that we will grow in happiness as we grow to realize what God has done for us and given us.

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  29. Thank you for writing this blog. I knew that there are differences between happiness and joy and now I was reminded. Thank you for letting people know that Jesus Christ gives us joy through the Holy Spirit! :D

    Liked by 1 person

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