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