Choosing Joy

I have always liked the word “joy.” I often buy Christmas cards that have “joy” written somewhere on the cover or inside in the verse, and I have two decorator pillows that have “joy” embroidered on them. I even have a newly acquired coffee cup that has “joy” written across the front of it. However, with all of those external reminders about “joy,” I realized that lately I need to get more of it inside of me instead of just seeing it on all of those external reminders.

I have always thought that joy is different from happiness. Happiness seems to be something fleeting or momentary, and it doesn’t last long; whereas joy is an internal feeling that is not dependent on circumstances. As I was looking online to see what the differences were between the two words, I found an article that asks a question in it’s title–Is there a difference between joy and happiness?”–and the answer is found on GotQuestions.org:

There is no explicit difference between happiness and joy. Both involve the emotions, both are pleasurable feelings, and both are mentioned in Scripture in passages that equate the two.

A dictionary definition of “happiness” is “a state of well-being; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” A definition of the word “rejoice,” related to the word “joy,” is “to feel great delight; to be glad.” Depending on the translation, the Bible uses the words “happy” and “happiness” words about 30 times, while “joy” and “rejoice” appear over 300 times.

Jeremiah 31:13 says, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; / I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Here, in the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the words “gladness” and “joy” are used synonymously. And Proverbs 23:25 says, “Let your father and your mother be glad, / And let her rejoice who gave birth to you.” Being glad is the same thing as rejoicing in this verse. Unless we are willing to say that gladness and happiness are completely different things, then we must say that joy and happiness are linked.

It is common today to hear believers speak of a difference between joy and happiness. The teaching usually makes the following points: 1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not. 2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting. 3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God. 4) Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine. But there is no such distinction made in Scripture, and forcing a distinction between two words that are so obviously close in meaning is unnecessary.

If a person is joyful, then he or she is happy. There’s no such thing as glum joy. We cannot drain joy of emotion and still call it “joy.” When God’s Spirit gives us joy, then we are happy people. Christians should be joyful; happiness should characterize our everyday lives.

James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” Christians can be happy, even in the midst of difficulties, because we know “the testing of our faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (verses 3–4). As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

Joy is often presented as “true” contentment based on faith. Happiness, in contrast, is often thought of as “false” or “superficial” emotion dependent on circumstances. But this is a false dichotomy. There is nothing in the Bible that suggests we divorce joy from happiness. The two are equal.

Of course, there are different types of joy and happiness. There is a joy that comes from the world, such as “the fleeting pleasures of sin” spoken of in Hebrews 11:25. There is a joy that is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). There is a temporary happiness and an eternal happiness, but we can call both “happiness.” We don’t need to split hairs between the meaning of “joy” and “happiness.” We just need to decide where our joy comes from. Are we happy in the Lord, or are we content with the happiness the world affords?

Solomon tried the world’s brand of happiness and found it to be lacking: “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?’” (Ecclesiastes 2:1–2). The joy of the world is hollow, but the joy of the Lord is rich and abundant. The world’s happiness will fade with time, but God’s people will be happy forever.

“Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10). (Quote source here.)

Given that explanation, joy and happiness are equal in their meanings, but both differentiate between the happiness and joy found in worldly pursuits, and the happiness and joy found in the Lord.

However, I found another article published on August 13, 2020, that differentiates between joy and happiness. In this article titled, What is the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?” by Glory Dy, content editor and contributing writer on Christianity.com, she states:

Joy and happiness are two different emotions that are somewhat similar but are actually very different. Joy is attributed to something very consistent and internal, while happiness tends to be triggered externally. (Quote source here.)

She lists five key differences between happiness and joy, with descriptions given for each of these differences in her article at this link:

  1. Happiness is External; Joy is Internal
  2. Happiness is Bliss; Joy is Selfless
  3. Happiness is Pleasure; Joy is a Sacrifice
  4. Happiness is Achievable on Earth; Joy is a More Spiritual Connection with God
  5. Happiness is Not Necessarily Good: Joy is Purely Good

And she ends her article with this summary:

Many people tend to have difficulty differentiating happiness from joy. However, it is actually very simple. Happiness is merely external, fleeting, can sometimes only be for pleasure, is only achievable on earth, and can sometimes not necessarily be good.

Joy, on the other hand, is internal, selfless, sacrificial, a spiritual connection with God, and is purely good. We need joy in our lives just as we need the Father and Jesus in our lives. That is why, to be able to attain joy, we must receive Christ, follow Him and His teachings. (Quote source here.)

Joy, of course, is also listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

GotQuestions.org explains what the fruit of the Holy Spirit is as follows:

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of a Christian. The Bible makes it clear that everyone receives the Holy Spirit the moment he or she believes in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:91 Corinthians 12:13Ephesians 1:13-14). One of the primary purposes of the Holy Spirit coming into a Christian’s life is to change that life. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to conform us to the image of Christ, making us more like Him.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is in direct contrast with the acts of the sinful nature in Galatians 5:19-21, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This passage describes all people, to varying degrees, when they do not know Christ and therefore are not under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Our sinful flesh produces certain types of fruit that reflect our nature, and the Holy Spirit produces types of fruit that reflect His nature.

The Christian life is a battle of the sinful flesh against the new nature given by Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). As fallen human beings, we are still trapped in a body that desires sinful things (Romans 7:14-25). As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit producing His fruit in us and we have the Holy Spirit’s power available to conquer the acts of the sinful nature (2 Corinthians 5:17Philippians 4:13). A Christian will never be completely victorious in always demonstrating the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the main purposes of the Christian life, though, to progressively allow the Holy Spirit to produce more and more of His fruit in our lives—and to allow the Holy Spirit to conquer the opposing sinful desires. The fruit of the Spirit is what God desires our lives to exhibit and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, it is possible! (Quote source here.)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, I need to cultivate more joy internally in my life and take my focus off of all the “external” stuff that is going on all around us in the world today. With that in mind, I found an article published on January 7, 2020, titled, 10 Ways to Get Your Joy Back,” by John Lindell, Lead Pastor at James River Church, and author of “New Normal: Experiencing God’s Best for Your Life,” published in April 2021. I’ll include a list of his “10 ways to get your joy back” below with more explanations on each one available at this link:

1. Joy is something God can restore

PSALM 51:12, Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (ESV)

2. Joy is found in God’s presence

PSALM 16:11, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (ESV)

3. Joy is the result of righteousness

PSALM 97:11, Light shines on the godly, and joy on those whose hearts are right. (NLT)
ECCLESIASTES 2:26, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. (NLT)

4. Joy is found in delighting in God’s Word

PSALM 119:111, Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. (NIV) I like the way The Message reads, “I inherited your book on living…”

5. Joy is the result of speaking with wisdom

PROVERBS 15:23, To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (ESV)

6. Joy is produced by righteous hope

PROVERBS 10:28, The hope of the righteous brings joy… (ESV)

7. Joy is found in answered prayer

JOHN 16:24, Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (ESV)

8. Joy is produced by the Holy Spirit

GALATIANS 5:22, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy… (ESV)
GALATIANS 5:25, Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (NIV)

9. Joy fills our heart as we remember the good things God has done through the people He has placed in our lives

PHILIPPIANS 1:3-5, I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. (GNT)

10. Joy comes when we trust the Lord

PSALM 40:4, Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord… (NLT) (Quote source here.)

I do believe I’m starting to feel more joyful! I’ll end this post with the words found in Nehemiah 8:10b: Do not sorrow…

For the joy . . .

Of the LORD . . .

Is your strength . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Joy Of The Lord” by Twila Paris:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here