I don’t know anybody that doesn’t want to be happy, I know that I do. God wants us to to be happy too but the Bible never promises happiness. However it does promise joy through Jesus.
1 Peter 1:8 (HCSB) You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy,
Depending on the translation, the Bible uses the word happy or happiness about 30 times. On the other hand “joy” and “rejoice” appear over 300 times. If we look at some verses it will help us understand why joy is different from happiness.
There is a difference between happiness and joy. You can have joy and be happy but you can’t have real happiness without joy. Happiness is based on what’s happening at the moment. If you're healthy, financially secure, and the relationships with family and friends are good it’s a time of happiness. However, let trouble come with any one or more of these things then those “happy feelings” are probably gone. That’s not what happens when you have joy.
Happiness is subjective. What matters is someone’s perception of happiness. Scientists say this emotion can be studied and measured because people can reliably and honestly self-report their increases and decreases in happiness levels. Joy is a state of mind, a combination of emotions, and in the spiritual context is localized in our heart. Joy contains elements of contentment, confidence and hope. - Dr. Cheryl A. MacDonald - Cheryl MacDonald, Psy’D.Health Psychology of San Diego
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit biologist and philosopher, once wrote, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
A dictionary definition of happiness is “a state of well-being, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.”
Joy is defined as "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation."
With these definitions, we could say that "happiness" and "joy" are interchangeable. But that’s not biblical joy.
I’ve heard the differences in happiness and joy described like this. “Happiness depends on circumstances. If everything is going well you’re happy. If not, then you're not happy. Happiness is like a water fountain. Joy is like a waterfall. Happiness is often quite shallow. Joy always runs very deep. Happiness wears off rather quickly. Joy tends to stick around for the long haul. Happiness usually revolves around things”.
While happiness is dependent on circumstances, joy, on the other hand, is true contentment that comes from internal things like faith in the God. Real joy is eternal and doesn’t depend on circumstances. The book of Philippians is a great study in the difference between joy and happiness. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter while in prison. The words “joy” “rejoice” and joyful” appear 16 times. It teaches us that we can be content and have joy in Jesus despite our circumstances.
Philippians 4:4-9 (HCSB)4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.9 Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul also wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth and told them that he had been under tremendous trials and tribulations.
2 Corinthians 1:8 (HCSB)8 For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life.
Even under these circumstances when his friend and Protégé, Titus, came he rejoiced.
2 Corinthians 7:5-7 (HCSB)5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears inside.6 But God, who comforts the humble, comforted us by the arrival of Titus,7 and not only by his arrival, but also by the comfort he received from you. He told us about your deep longing, your sorrow, and your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
He even talks about some other Christians who had joy even in their poverty.
2 Corinthians 8:1-2 (HCSB)1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia:2 During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.
Jesus Gives Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory
John 15:11 (HCSB) “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
What had He told them that would give them so much joy?
John 15:1-10 (HCSB)1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.9 “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.10 If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.
Happiness is Fleeting but Joy is Eternal
This joy rises above circumstances. It’s not produced by something external that makes me feel happy. It’s the supernatural result of a life filled with the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-26 (HCSB)22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.26 We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
James 1:2-4 (HCSB)2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
The bible doesn’t teach that we will have no problems. Problems come no matter how much faith we have. Some get diseases and die no matter how many prayers are said for healing, some will have financial ruin no matter how much the give, promising young Christians will be killed by random violence, no matter how pure their lives. Jesus told us that things wouldn’t always be great.
John 16:32-33 (HCSB)32 Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.33 I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
Jesus didn’t tell us to be happy, because these aren’t happy things. He told us to rejoice, because He had already overcome these things and we can overcome them in Him. Happiness is fleeting because it often depends on things outside of ourselves, but true joy is eternal because it is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ, which is itself an everlasting source of joy.
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.