Is there a difference between joy and happiness?

Yes, yes, and yes! Joy is such a little word, but it explodes with a profound meaning.

Depending on your translation, the Bible uses joy (or rejoice) over 300 times. Happiness (or happy) is only used about 30 times. There has to be a distinction between them, but what is it?

What is Happiness?

I think we all can kind of agree on what happiness means. We all have different things that make us happy, based on our various personality or life situations. It makes me incredibly happy to drive to the end of my side street and see that there is no one coming when I pull out into the highway. It's a tiny thing, but it makes me happy. Of course, about sixty seconds later, I am not longer even thinking about that, now wondering if I remembered to bring my lunch. Happiness, while lovely, is a fleeting thing and really dependent on external forces.

Let me explain what I mean with some examples of happiness from Scripture:

"Behold how happy is the man whom God reproves. So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." Job 5:17

"When you shall eat the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you." Psalm 128:2

"He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor." Proverbs 14:21

See how each example is dependent on something? Happiness is almost always an if-then statement. If _________ happens, then happiness happens. If God reproves a man, then he will be happy. If you are gracious to the poor, then you will be happy. If there is no traffic, then I will be happy.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that happiness is bad. Quite the opposite! Happiness is a gift from God, and a very good thing. But happiness doesn't last forever.

What is Joy?

Joy comes from the Greek word chara, and it means "to be exceedingly glad."

Take this example from James 1:2-4: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing."

Joy comes from a solid factor, an unshakeable fact: your faith in the Lord. True joy burns within you and is not dependant on external circumstances. Take a few moments to read Philippians 1:12-24 and then come back. Go on, check it out.

Did you notice Philippians 1:18? "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice."

Paul wrote these words while he was in jail and knew his life was nearing the end. Yet he still had joy; his foundation was in his Savior, and through his suffering the gospel spread throughout all of Rome. This was no fleeting happy feeling; it was assurance in God's power to use his life for His glory.

"What if I'm saved, but I don't feel joyful?"

Maybe you're asking the above question right now as you read this. You have a relationship with Christ, you know your Savior has saved you and loves you, but you don't feel joy. Don't worry. We all get like that sometimes. This does not mean you are not saved or a "bad Christian". I want to quote two more verses for you:

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

"And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

Life is hard, and some days it is harder to hold onto that feeling of joy. But guess what? Joy is not based on feeling; it is based on knowing. On those days that everything just feels bleak, remember and know that your Savior loves you and loved you enough to die for you, and you will never be given more to than you are capable of handling (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Happiness, although a wonderful gift from God, will always be dependent on forces outside of ourselves. On the other hand, joy is a deep security based on our knowledge that God loves us, will take care of us, and has saved us through Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14).





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Heidi Joelle is professional minion by day and a writer, editor, and reader by night. She can be coaxed from the house by the sound of a good adventure, or traveling somewhere new. Her Saint Bernard, Smokey, and problem-solving cat, Diamond, bring extra joy to daily life.