What Is The Difference Between Joy And Happiness In The Bible?

Are joy and happiness the same thing? How are they different? How does the Bible delineate the differences between joy and happiness?

Happiness is…

I think most people would agree that happiness is a goal. Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? The truth is the Bible never promises happiness, however it does promise joy. There is a difference. You can have joy and be happy but you can’t really be happy without joy; at least lasting happiness. It’s easy to be happy when you have freedom from suffering, you’re financially secure, and all your relationships are good, but then you have trouble with one or more of these, what happens to the “happiness?” It’s probably gone but if you’ve trusted in Jesus and know you are secure in His hands (John 10:28-29) you’ve still got joy. Happiness is based upon “happenings,” meaning if things happen to go well, you’re happy, but if it happens that something bad occurs then you’re happiness is likely gone. Not so with joy.

Joy is…

As I wrote before, you can be happy and have joy but happiness is dependent upon circumstances; joy is not. Here’s why. Before Jesus went to Calvary He said “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). You will have “sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). Jesus promises the disciples that their joy will be full or complete. Filling a glass of water to the brim makes it full or complete. Jesus went to the cross to make sure that joy would be complete. Next, Jesus reassures them that no one’s going to take their joy away. That is a permanent possession, not a fleeting moment like happiness is. Jesus says to them and He says to us, today you might “be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” even though it is still today. I presided over a funeral where sorrow and joy were felt at the same time. The departed woman was born again and we were joyful knowing where she was at, but we were all still sorrowful about losing her. Happiness is not much help under these circumstances but joy is! Some of those standing at her grave know they’ll be seeing this woman again and that gives them great joy, a joy that no one can take from them. And even though mixed with grief, the joy remains.

These-things-I-have

The Differences

Hopefully I have established the fact that happiness and joy is not the same thing at all. You can be in a state of happiness one moment and then dread the next. If something happens to go wrong, you lose nothing in heaven. You get bad news but your good news is better. You are happy one moment then sad the next but you can be joyful in that same moment. Even though joy and happiness have a lot in common, one thing that they don’t have in common is one is permanent while the other is fleeting. One is from God and one is from us. One can come and go but the other will remain. If joy and happiness were friends, happiness would be the unfaithful one of the two.

The Permanence of Joy

We have joy because we’ve been saved. How amazing that we’ve been rescued from the wrath of God Who placed it on His Only Son. Paul rejoiced in this, writing “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13). One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy (Gal 5:22). This joy doesn’t depart when we shed tears. Paul shows that the two can co-exist, writing “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” 2nd Tim 1:4). Apparently Paul ached to see Timothy again and wept over him with longing but still had joy. Even when we encounter trials, James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).  Do you remember Jesus saying “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)? Full is a way of seeing it as complete and that same completeness of joy is found in many places in the Bible like in Jesus’ words, Paul’s epistles, James, Peter, and the Apostle John too (2nd Tim 1:4; 2nd John 1:12).

Conclusion

Jesus brings joy because we’ve been saved to eternal life but He also says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27) so “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Do you believe in God and trust in Jesus? Then you have nothing to be troubled about, nothing to fear, you have eternal life, and that should bring great joy and that ought to make you happy too.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.

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  • Mark T

    I would have to disagree with you on this. In the sermon on the mount Jesus says eight times blessed is… Blessed is being happy. Psalms one says blessed is the man. Blessed is the word for happiness and it is mentioned over five hundred times in the bible. So Jesus does promise happiness. I believe what we fail to recognize is feeling happy is not always possible, but the state of happiness is possible. Take for example Paul and Silas in jail and they were happy and singing. Happy has the idea of happenings and the happening of Paul and Silas was such that they had been placed in jail for serving God and doing good. Had they robbed a bank or murdered someone and where in jail for that the happening would have been such that they could not be what we call happy. When you are doing God’s will no matter what comes our way we have the confidence that God is with us and that should always make us happy.

  • It is not often I disagree with men or women of faith who bring forth the Word for Believers, unless of course, what they are preaching is not premised in Bible. While I do get your overall hermenuetic here, I am not certain that this passes the scriptural test. There are over 200 verses which equate joy with happiness. Here is a mere sampling:

    Esther 8:16 (NIV) “For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor.”
    Jeremiah 31:13 (HCSB) “Then the young woman will rejoice with dancing, while young and old men rejoice together. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation,and bring happiness out of grief.”
    Proverbs 23:25 “So give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy.”

    I believe from a biblical perspective then, that both joy and happiness are synonymous.