Joy & Happiness – How They Go Hand in Hand
Joy & Happiness – How They Go Hand in Hand
Happiness. Joy. What’s the difference? Is there any? While historically, happiness and joy were used interchangeably by many renowned pastors, the contemporary church likes to make a clear distinction between happiness and joyfulness.
I’ve heard it said by some within the contemporary church that joy is something Christians have and happiness is what the world has; that happiness is an emotion and joy is an attitude of the heart. I tend to disagree with both statements. There’s a lot of religious pride in the first, and the beauty of joy – the emotion of it – is absent in the second.
Now, I’m no theologian. I’m not even a pastor…or anything close. But I know that joyful people are happy and that happy people are oftentimes joyful. Thus, I’m inclined to believe that the difference between happiness and joy is simply depth and longevity.
I like to think of it like this — happiness is an emotion. One that can be attained through circumstances or through decisions. Happiness can come quickly and be fleeting. For example, finding a parking place close to the door when I’m in a hurry can make me happy, only for that happiness to evaporate when I pull forward and realize it’s handicap (and thus, it’s illegal for me to park there). That happiness came and left quickly.
Joy, on the other hand, is deep. It’s strong. It’s solid. And it is born from making decisions day after day after day that get ingrained in who we are, in our very heart and soul, in the deepest parts of our being. Joy is the result of consistently choosing happiness.
You can choose to be happy by focusing on your blessings instead of your lack.
You can choose to be happy because you have a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
You can choose to be happy in every situation because you serve a God who turns even bad things for your good. (Romans 8:28)
You can choose to be happy by extending grace instead of dwelling on offense.
You can choose to be happy by enjoying the moment you are living right now instead of waiting for a distant day when circumstances align perfectly.
You can choose to be happy, even when your spouse isn’t perfect.
You can choose to be happy, even when your children are not behaving like you wish they would.
You can choose to be happy, even when your employer is difficult.
You can choose to be happy, even when you are on a tight budget.
You can choose to be happy rather than allowing the stress of life and our fast-paced society to rule your heart.
I believe those decisions to be happy bond together, creating a beautiful work of art that solidifies in a deep, long-lasting, emotional character trait known as joy. It’s a beautiful character trait – one that draws others to you, that shines from your eyes, and lights up the room.
Choosing to be happy leads to joy. Joy requires action. It requires intentionality. It requires decision. It requires intentionally putting it on.
Our human nature does not automatically choose joy. Grumbling, comparison, selfishness, anger, wanting things to be fair, entitlement and self-pity come much more naturally, without effort. Happiness can occasionally occur by no effort of our own. But joy, joy takes an intentional decision, effort, and work.
For example, spend a moment picturing the joy felt by a parent when a prodigal child finally comes home. The homecoming of a child would not hold joy if incredible effort had not been put into raising and caring for that child, or if a decision and effort had not been made to wait and hope for his return. It is through the intentional effort of loving, caring for, raising, dreaming, and praying for the return of a wayward child, that the depth of joy at his homecoming is found. It’s not the circumstance (the child arriving), but the effort, depth, and love put into the child that accounts for the joy.
Same as when a woman gives birth to a child. It’s not only that an infant is placed in her arms, but the effort, the waiting, even the pain that she endured to give birth to him. It was the effort, the work, the waiting, the longing, the loving, the anticipation, the decisions she made along the way to nurture the life growing within her, that make the joy of holding him in her arms for the very first time so sweet.
When I had each of my girls, to say I was happy wouldn’t come close to doing justice to the emotion I felt. It was not temporary. It was not fleeting. It was deep. It was meaningful. It was joy. And no matter what difficulty lies ahead, or what tragedy may come, that joy remains because I held that baby that I had worked so hard for, and however long the Lord gives her to me, I had her. And that gift will always bring joy.
Joy doesn’t just happen. It takes effort, commitment, making decisions that get you to that place, to that time. Sometimes we experience joy within a situation (like having a baby, the return of a prodigal child, getting married to the love of our life, holding our baby’s baby, getting the very job we worked years for, etc), but we’re also called to have joy every day. And we can, because we can choose it. We can develop it as a character trait, by making decisions moment after moment, day after day, year after year to choose happiness. Choosing happiness consistently develops a character trait of joy that we emanate and radiate. That kind of joy can weather any storm of life. Not because storms won’t come – because they will – but because we have conditioned ourselves to look for the good, focus on the positive, and choose happiness.
We can choose that because we know that we have so much to be thankful for, and because we belong to One who has created, waited for, loved, longed for, sacrificed for – us. We are the joy set before Him that persuaded Him to endure the cross and in His presence is our fullness of joy. Through keeping a grateful heart, looking at His blessings in our lives and for His continued blessings in our future, sitting in His presence, and seeking to follow Him in all things – in every decision that we face – we can develop the character trait of joy in our lives. What a blessed way to live. What wisdom there is in the Bible, yet again, as it instructs us to live with joy.
When it comes to simply enjoying life, it’s no mystery that someone who lives a joyful life will have a better quality of life than the one who lives without joy. Joy focuses on and celebrates the best parts of your life, finds the best in every situation, and says no to unhelpful and unnecessary fear and worry.
And the best part is, happiness and eventually joy, are within our reach! All it takes is making the decision to be happy, to look for the positives, to stay thankful, and to remain in the presence of God. (For five tips on how to feel happier today, click here.)
Happiness and joy may be interchangeable, as used by the theologians of old, or they may be differentiated by depth and longevity, as I’m inclined to believe, but either way, the Bible is clear that they should be present in every believer. And the beautiful thing is – they’re available to every believer, and only a decision away! So choose happiness, and cultivate a beautiful character trait of joy! You will be glad you did!
This is the fourth blog in an eight week series on happiness. To make sure you don’t miss the next four, sign up for my newsletter!