I am asked this question every once in awhile: What is the difference between happiness and joy? It’s a question I love to answer because often, these two words are misunderstood and are somehow thought to have the same meaning.
Happiness is a feeling…..while joy is an attitude. Happiness depends on what happens, joy doesn’t. Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control in every area of my life. Real joy is sorrow accepted and transformed. True joy has nothing to do with moods and emotions but is a condition of the soul. It survives through pain and sorrow and is deeply rooted in the life of Jesus Christ.
Joy is often hard to understand to those that don’t know Jesus. I know, because there was a time when I didn’t experience this joy…and I didn’t understand it. A person that is not in relationship with Christ, I believe, often does find it hard to understand. How often have Christ followers been looked at inquisitively because they claim to have joy in their heart even during times of trouble and hard times…….times that most other people would be depressed and down.
So, how do we experience “joy” in our lives? Basically, by trusting in God’s sovereignty in our lives. Trusting that God has a plan for us and that we are living out His plan. Trusting in God’s decisions.
One good place to start in understanding “joy” is in the book of James, especially the first chapter. James was the half brother of Jesus and in the days following the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, a leader in the Jerusalem church. James tells us:
James 1:2 and 3 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Joy is a deep sense of well-being that may at the same time embrace sorrow, tears, laughter, anger and/or pain. Joy is more a decision than a feeling. It is choosing to live above feelings but not deny them. It is not intense happiness, although choosing joy sometimes produces happiness. Joy is a particularly Christian response to life since it depends on faith in God’s sovereignty. It is quiet and grateful, and it inwardly delights in the goodness of God.
I believe that joy can be understood a little better in the context of two other main responses that we have to life:
1. Drifting: Some people float in the ebb and flow of life’s experiences, hoping one moment and despairing the next. Feeling like this leaves the person entirely at the mercy of the events that happen in their life.
2. Pretending: Some people pretend to be happy, determined to put up a good front, no matter what the circumstances.
If I were to compare these two, joy is more honest. It admits to hurts. It recognizes suffering and willingly participates in it. Joy is a contentment that comes from realizing that nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (The Apostle Paul tells us this in his epistle to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 39).
Joyful living requires self-control and contentment. Even in trials, joy should be our chosen response. Joy allows us to endure the test until it has accomplished its purpose. So…..contentment leads to self-control, which clears the way for further contentment. Understanding the purposes of trials and the importance of joy require’s wisdom, which comes from God.
Here is one of my favorite descriptions of “joy” (Life Application Study Bible):
“When things go well, we feel elated. When hardships come, we sink into depression. But true joy rises above the rolling waves of circumstance. Joy comes from a consistent relationship with Jesus Christ. When our lives intertwine with His, He helps us walk through adversity without sinking into debilitating lows, and we can manage prosperity without moving into deceptive highs. The joy of living with Jesus Christ daily keeps us levelheaded no matter how high or low our circumstances.”
Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, verses 10 and 11: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
When I know and trust that Jesus’ plan for me is better than mine……..and I seek to follow Him and do His will……I start to understand “Joy”. When we have a relationship with Jesus, our future is secure, our lives are in God’s control, and we can be content … and have joy. Yes, we can have joy, even in hardship. Joy does not come from outward circumstances but from inward strength.
May you find joy in your every moment of life, recognizing that God is in control and in all things, with Jesus, we can endure, grow and find a peace that transcends all understanding.