Happiness vs Joy

A slide from Geoff Hillier's talk @ Canterbury Vineyard, 21 November 2010

A slide from Geoff Hillier's talk @ Canterbury Vineyard, 21 November 2010

In my first post on this blog, I said this:

Here’s why this isn’t a minimalist blog: For most people, and even it seems most minimalist writers out there, the ‘intentional promotion of the things I value most’ part can be replaced with ‘the pursuit of happiness’. This can easily lead to looking inward, and focusing on not what’s important to you, but what’s going to make you happy, which in my experience aren’t always the same thing.  This is not only selfish but, bizarrely, pretty much the exact same goal as the antitheses of minimalism, consumerism and materialism. The key is finding out what you most value.

What’s the difference between happiness and joy? Are they the same thing? If you’re one, are you the other? If they’re different, which leads to which?

As to whether they’re the same thing, I put the question out there on twitter. I got a few responses – one saying the only difference is in the spelling, a couple pointing me to places I might find some more info, and one saying they are different – “for me happiness is circumstantial – fickle I guess. Joy is something much deeper, it can cut through the daily crap!”

I don’t think they’re the same thing, at least I have come to not know them as the same thing. My take on it before I asked anyone or started reading up on it, was that happiness was both temporary and reactionary, whereas joy was a heart attitude, in some senses a discipline, set outside of circumstances and having no relation. As I read up on it I found some interesting stuff:

A quick search on bible gateway for ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’ delivered 26 results. The same search for ‘joy’ or ‘joyful’ brought back 270. So already I’m thinking, either they’re the same thing, or there’s something pretty special about joy for it to be mentioned 10 times as frequently.

So what does the bible have to say about it? Here’s a verse on happiness, from Jonah of all places:

6 Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.

Jonah 4:6

I might be twisting this for my own purposes – do let me know if I am – but it’s interesting that later in that chapter Jonah gets angry when a hungry worm eats the plant and Jonah isn’t shaded anymore. His happiness is both temporary and based on circumstances. This illustrates my feelings of queasiness about pursuing happiness perfectly – happiness is a dangerous emotion! If we put our treasure in happiness, it can easily get taken away which can lead not only to anger but to far worse. Of course that’s not to say happiness as an emotion is in any way bad – God doesn’t make mistakes – but that it should be recognised for what it is.

In contrast, a couple of verses on joy (it would have been fairer to do 10 but I think you get the gist):

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galations 5:22

11 You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11

From these verses, I think it’s pretty clear that the two are different. Happiness starts and ends in a feeling, whereas joy roots itself in the heart and isn’t necessarily arisen out of something positive happening.

With that sorted, another question niggling me was this: is joy only found in God, or can it be found in the world – in relationships etc. Are they different things? I was checking out the verse in Phil 4:4 about rejoicing always when I noticed something interesting a few verses before – check this out:

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! ….  4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Only three verses apart, Paul talks about joy being found in relationships, then rejoicing in God. What can we take from this? I reckon two things:

1. When we talk about joy being an attitude of the heart, its connotations are like that of a discipline (as I thought at first). However if we think of it like this we’re missing the point completely. We’re called to ‘rejoice in the Lord’ not for his pleasure, or ours, but because he is God! He is all powerful, all loving, all forgiving, etc.. the list goes on and on.

2. It’s not only ‘acceptable’ for us to find joy in and amongst our day to day lives, it’s the whole point! 2 Corinthians 4:7 says that God puts his treasures in jars of clay. Similarly as we feel anger and compassion when we see injustice around us, should we not feel joy when that injustice is put right? Absolutely! Let us rejoice in not only who God is, but what he has done and what he is doing through us. In this way I think that joy comes from hope fulfilled, seeing what God is up to.

One final point that I’d love some feedback on – how is joy related to the other fruits of the spirit mentioned above? I’m sure that they’re not separate – ie being joyful puts you on the path to peace and vice versa. What do you reckon?



~ by jgebrown on 24 November 2010.

7 Responses to “Happiness vs Joy”

  1. The photo is of a slide off Geoff Hillier’s talk at Canterbury Vineyard this past Sunday, 21 November 2010, on hearing from God and remaining in the vine. A really inspiring talk filled with great examples – i’ll update this with a link to the podcast when it’s available.

  2. Always so relevant for life Josh!
    Paul makes a good point in Philippians 1 about transforming our happiness (because all good things come from God) to joy…by thanking God for those things ‘I thank my God every time I remember you.’ If we do this we can surely change the happiness in our relationships to joy…? And even more powerful when there’s some who we don’t feel like thanking God for!

    • Ha, that’s true! I was listening recently to a great podcast by Bill Johnson on thankfulness, he was talking about how thankfulness causes shift in the atmosphere. Full of such truth, check it out! It’s called ‘Apostolic Admonition’.

  3. I kind of view “happiness” as “Joy Lite”! Lets face it, we all love to be happy but like you said, hapiness is so dependant on what is happening to us at any given time. It comes and goes and so we seek hapiness in all of the shallow pools of life, just hoping that it will be enough to see us through.

    The longer I am on the face of this planet, the more I see that it will never last the distance. Joy on the other hand is an altogether deeper experience. I once heard faith described as “knowing, but deeper” Maybe thats what joy is….”hapiness,but deeper”. Joy has a substance to it, a kind of background to life when you realise certain things are in motion. That God does in fact love us, that we dont have to live scared of him or ashamed, and all this because of what jesus has done for us on the cross.

    Joy is like a beautiful score to a movie, that may be happy or tragically sad at different times. The emotion fluctuates but the joy does not it runs in the background. I guess that why Paul talks about joy as fruit of the spirit, a gift from God if you like. That comes from being intimately connected to Him not because of what is happening.

    When we are connected to God, we can begin to see a thread of joy run through life. It can be hard to spot sometimes, and sometimes we need to stretch to remember its there. but this is what keeps me coming back to Him, in the face of all the crap the world can throw at us. Its what let James say this…..

    2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

    On that note, I shall go out with joy!

  4. Great stuff here Josh! I think letting joy work itself deep into our hearts will be a discipline at first – the soul/flesh wants to quench the Spirit life, and emotion, although good, is part of the soul and can easily run amock. But if we choose to submit our negative emotions to God, we’ll “sow in tears, reap in joy”.

  5. Again this is a very good blog and very well written. Joy is something that i have found comes from God. He is my Joy and my Salvation.

    To be happy is great, it is a nice feeling, its an emotion that we all need to feel. We can make people feel happy and they to can make us happy.

    I think we can allow Joy to root itself in our hearts, Even when we go through crap in our lifes that joy is still there.

    I love the fact we can ‘Rejoice In the Lord’, and in the above passage (phil 4) Paul thought it important to repeat himself. With the Joy that comes from God i know we can over come all things. it will give us grace and strength to keep going in hard times.

    I have been very blessed reading this blog tonight. Food for thought. Keep them coming.


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