Joy > Happiness: Why These Two Words Are Actually Polar Opposites

One of my favorite TV shows is Mad Men. If you have never watched the show, it involves the advertising industry, set in 1960’s Manhattan. It is a masterpiece of dialogue, setting, and screenwriting, but the true genius of the show lies in the depth of the characters, especially the lead, Don Draper.

Draper is a man of polished exterior. He is a wildly successful advertising mastermind. He has power, money, charm, and charisma. He is good looking, well dressed, and well spoken. He is the man most women want and most men want to be. Not only that, he is self-made, having started from very humble beginnings. In every sense, he is the embodiment of the American hero.

However, for all his accolades and polished veneer, Don Draper is a lost soul. He searches for fulfillment in his work, as he strives for excellence and rises to the top of his field, but finds no real satisfaction in it. He has had two gorgeous wives throughout the course of the show, yet they do not satiate him.  He frequently commits adultery, hoping to find something he is missing in his marriage(s) (which he does not). He drinks compulsively, relishing in the escape it provides him, but in the morning the void is still there. He travels the world. He owns beautiful things. He gets anything he wants but ultimately he is still unresolved.

Draper’s plight is representative of the very thing most people spend their lives pursuing, yet not finding…

Happiness.

Think about it. How many times have you heard someone utter the phrase, “All I want is to be happy?”  Yet, how many people do you know who actually seem content? Few, if any.

The reason for this is the “happiness” so many of us search for is not something that will bring our souls rest.

See, when you boil it down, happiness is a form of contentment that is the result of circumstances working out in our favor. It is a magical balance of satisfaction and glee that results when life goes the way we want it to. The problem is, happiness is based upon things that are ultimately outside our control. Though we may have seasons of “happiness” in our lives, trying to be “happy” as a destination, as a permanent residence, is a precarious goal, at best. Why? Because circumstance cannot be trusted. As soon as we think life has finally gone our way, a close friend gets into a car accident, or a relative develops cancer. Then what? The happy state of being we fought so desperately for deserts us again, and we realize we are once again dissatisfied. It’s like investing in friendship with a fun, but ultimately fickle friend. You know the type: When the times are good, you have a blast. You share inside jokes. You party together. You create memories. But when life gets real and you need someone to get in the mud with you, they are nowhere to be found.

So it is with happiness.

And here is the final truth about happiness: the more we make it our goal, the less likely we are to find it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to invest in fickle friendships. I would rather invest in something that I can count on.

Joy, however, is something entirely different than happiness, even though the two terms are often used synonymously. Joy is a state of the soul that has nothing to do with circumstance. It is based on the knowledge of a God that does not change. Because He never leaves us hanging, we can count on Him. He never bails on a meet-up, never forgets to return a call, and never bats an eye at getting into the muck and mire with us. He will be there when we need someone to shed a tear with, and he will be there when life works out in our favor as well.  That is His character.

This simple knowledge, actually produces joy, which is a reaction to unchanging truth.

Joy defeats the sorrow we are promised to face in this life, no matter how dark and insurmountable those moments may seem to be. It is the reminder that although we will wake up one day soon with sagging flesh, aching joints and poor eyesight, there is something beyond this life. It is a reminder that although death may creep at the bedroom door, I know that my soul will pass into a realm of being that far surpasses this one. Therefore, joy is something that is possible to have in every season of life and is greater than even our most pleasant days, even our most perfect circumstances.

Happiness is Circumstantial. Joy is transcendent, supernatural, and therefore, far superior.

Search for happiness and you will not find it. Search for God and you will find joy, a fruit far more satisfying than the temporary bliss that so many are fighting fruitlessly to find. 

This is an excerpt from The Tin Soldiers, a book for men.  It’s also a small group discussion stimulator.  It makes a great gift, even if the guy in your life doesn’t read.  Follow The Tin Soldiers on Twitter here.  Follow The Tin Soldiers on Facebook here. Grab a copy of the book in print here.  Grab a copy as an ebook here.

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About Andrew Schwab

Andrew Schwab is the author of five books and has written for publications which include Relevant Magazine, Time/Life, HM, CCM, and Alternative Press. He has spoken at over two hundred festivals, conferences, churches, schools, and fellowships all over the world. His band, Project 86, has sold nearly 500,000 albums worldwide.


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