What is the difference between joy and happiness?
Many distinguish between joy and happiness by saying that joy is an inner attitude whereas happiness is a fleeting emotion based on circumstance. It is common to think of happiness as being dependent upon an experience or other external stimulus. When circumstances are positive, happiness results. When circumstances change, happiness disappears. On the other hand, joy is based on internal well-being or the anticipation of well-being. Joy can be sustained in both positive and negative circumstances. The English definition of the word "joy" often includes a reference to the emotion of happiness. So despite the fact that we make distinctions, it seems joy and happiness are intricately related. What does the Bible say?
There are several different Hebrew and Greek root words translated as "happy," "joy," "rejoice," and "glad." In fact, the Hebrew esher can be translated as "happiness" or "blessedness." This word is used in passages like Deuteronomy 33:29 where Moses tells the Israelites, "Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you, and you shall tread upon their backs." It is also used in Psalm 1:1: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers."
Similary, the Greek makarios can be translated as "blessed" or "happy." This is the Greek word used in the beatitudes. It is used in Luke 1:45 when Elizabeth tells Mary, "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." Among other places, it is also used in Luke 12 in Jesus' parable about being ready: "And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions'" (Luke 12:42–44).
The Greek word chara is often translated as "joy" in the New Testament. It is instructive to see the different situations in which it is used. This is the joy that is produced in believers by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Paul uses the word throughout the book of Philippians, a letter he wrote to them while imprisoned. He said he prayed for the Philippians with joy (Philippians 1:4) and he asked them to make his joy complete by exhibiting unity (Philippians 2:2). They were to receive Epaphroditus with joy (Philippians 2:29), and Paul referred to the Philippians as his "joy and crown" (Philippians 4:1). These all seem to be happy expressions.
In Hebrews 12:11 we read, "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." The word translated "pleasant" there is the Greek chara. In this verse we see that even though discipline is not an enjoyable experience, it is actually for our good. The writer of Hebrews encourages the readers that God "disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10). Though the situation may not seem happy, it is not one to brood about or be discouraged by. Similarly, James 1:2–4 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Trials are certainly not a circumstance we would consider to be happy in the common sense of that word, and yet we can have joy in the midst.
It seems impossible to fully separate happiness from joy. How can one be both joyful and glum? True joy seems to result in a measure of happiness. That being said, the caricature of putting on a "happy face" or the idea that we are to "grin and bear it" is not biblical. Throughout the Bible we see genuine expressions of sadness and honest explanations of deep and painful hardships. Pretending hard things don't exist leads neither to outer happiness nor inner joy. Even though believers have the joy of the Lord, we can still feel and express sadness. The difference is that we do so with hope, knowing that the hard things of this earth are not eternal and that God is with us in the midst.
To the extent that happiness is associated with a circumstantially driven, fleeting and shallow emotion, it is different from what is meant when people refer to joy. But attempting to make a clear and hard distinction between happiness and joy is a bit pointless. Joyful people express happiness. True and lasting joy, or happiness or blessedness, results from our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Psalm 32 talks about the man whose sin is forgiven as being blessed (or happy). Psalm 84:12 says, "O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!" Psalm 119:1–2 talks of people being blessed (or happy) when walking in God's way and seeking Him with a whole heart. Referring to believers, John wrote, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 1:4). First Peter 1:8 says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." Our joy is dependent upon the truth of Jesus Christ and His presence in our lives. And that truth is certainly something to be happy about.
The joy of the Lord – What is it?
The joy of the Lord is a supernatural confidence that God is sovereign, loving, powerful, and for us. It is the inner understanding, granted by the Holy Spirit, that no matter our circumstances, our condition, or our surroundings, God is working things out for our good (Romans 8:28).
The joy of the Lord is evident throughout the Bible, especially in regards to Jesus.
Before He was born, Mary sang of her joy (Luke 1:47) and Jesus' cousin John, still in his mother's womb, leaped for joy (Luke 1:44). On the night of Jesus' birth, the angels brought "good news of great joy" to the shepherds, announcing the coming Savior (Luke 2:10).
Jesus Himself lived with joy. Once, He said He was like a bridegroom at his own wedding feast (Mark 2:18–19)—that is unmatched joy! At one point, people accused Him of being too joyful (Luke 7:34). Jesus told His followers that He taught them for His own joy and for a full portion of joy for them (John 15:11; 16:24).
Jesus' stories often resulted in joy—for example, the shepherd, woman, and father in Luke 15. Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21).
When the church began, it was known for its joy (Acts 2:46–47; 13:52). When Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit, he included joy (Galatians 5:22). And, there is more. See Acts 13:52, Romans 14:17, Philippians 3:1 and 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, and 1 Peter 1:8.
This joy of the Lord permeates the Bible. It extends deeper and further than mere happiness, which is temporary. It is constant (John 10:28–29; 1 Peter 1:3–9; Matthew 6:20).
Joy is a cornerstone of our relationship with God and that's why He spends so much time telling us about it in the Bible. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Our entire relationship with God, made through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, is set on a foundation of joy. "Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
How can I have joy when I'm going through trials?
Sometimes Christians believe that once they have been accepted into the Kingdom of God, their lives will be problem free. When this turns out not to be true, they begin to wonder why, and ask questions like "Is it something I've done? Am I really a Christian? Why are all these bad things happening to me if God loves me? Is He really there?" The Bible is clear that trials are part of life. Sometimes they are a result of the general effects of sin in the world. Sometimes we bring hardship on ourselves through our own sin. Sometimes trials are given to us by God to grow our faith. Regardless of the reason, we can endure trials with joy, knowing that God will use them to test our faith and make us strong (James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:3–9). The person who faces trials is being treated as a child of God, and God is a loving, attentive Father—He brings discipline to our lives in order to teach us and make us righteous (Hebrews 12:7–11).
James says we are to "consider it pure joy" when we face trials (James 1:2 NIV). He goes on to explain, "for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3–4). Similarly, Peter writes, "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6–7). For believers in Christ, being conformed into His image is our desire. Rather than look at trials as meaningless suffering, we can look at them as opportunities to grow in faith. When Paul had a thorn in his flesh, he prayed for God to remove it. God responded, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul's reply: "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Often during times of trial we draw closer to God and experience His love and power in deeper ways. This is cause for great joy.
Does it mean we should not pray for our trials to end? No. The point of the Christian life is not to endure as much suffering as we can. Rather, it is to know God and to be conformed to the image of Christ (2 Timothy 2:12–13; Romans 8:29–30). Sometimes suffering is part of that (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12–14). Suffering is also simply a reality of living in a world marred by sin. It is appropriate to pray for our trials to end. In fact, we see examples of people praying for an end to trials throughout the Bible, such as Job, David, and Paul. Even Jesus prayed that, if possible, He would not have to endure the cross. Yet He submitted His will to the Father and endured that suffering to bring salvation to us (Luke 22:39–46). The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured "for the joy that was set before him" (Hebrews 12:1–2). We can pray for trials to end while still having joy in the midst of the hardships, submitting our wills to God and asking Him to use any life circumstances for our good and His glory.
Does having joy in trials mean we are supposed to be all smiles and dismissive of hardship, even when we are suffering? No. A person can experience joy and suffering simultaneously. Having joy does not mean we disregard the painful things in life. Rather, it means we look at them with a godly perspective, trusting that God is with us in them and that He can use them to His glory and for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28–39). We can weep (Romans 12:15) and also "rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12). Our joy is founded on hope in Christ, not on pleasant life circumstances. Our joy in trials is an attitude of a heart resting in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). The Holy Spirit indwells believers, and His joy is always there, just as He has promised always to be with us (Hebrews 13:5–6).
We can have joy in trials because we are sure of the character and promises of God. This world is not our final home (Philippians 3:20–21). We do not grieve over loss as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Instead, we trust that our Savior is returning. Trials do not derail our life purpose because worldly ease is not the goal of our lives. Eternal joy is just around the corner for the one who endures through the trials and futility of this world (Matthew 24:13; 2 Timothy 4:8). We are like captives traveling through an underground escape tunnel toward a safe place. As we hold onto Christ, He literally pulls us through this dark place until we emerge in our final and eternal Home. And when we get there, we will have what has been promised: "in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). Sorrow and trials are part of this world, but the joy of the Spirit is the knowledge that God redeems the suffering of this world for good purposes and that the next world will be a place of unending happiness, where every tear is wiped away (Revelation 21:4).