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Happiness and Joy “Are they different?”

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Christians talk about happiness and joy. Some think there is a difference between the two conditions. Is this true?


We must admit that happiness does not always last long! The moment comes, we enjoy the feeling, and then it disappears again. Perhaps you are made happy by a person, or a job, or a hobby, a song, a piece of music, a favourite food, or a surprise.

In other words, we are talking about an emotional reaction to something we like. It is momentary and fleeting. On the other hand, we can know almost continuous happiness with, say, our spouse, or children. We feel pleased with these things… but, the happiness can disappear when the object of our happiness is lost or gone.


Christians know happiness (I hope), but we can experience a far deeper thing called ‘joy’. This kind of experience appears to be a deeper happiness and, for me, the two things are not really separate. Rather, joy is a more expansive and longer-lasting form of happiness. Joy is itself an emotion, but one that is heart-felt and a result of God’s intervention rather than a mere human reaction to something we like.

Happiness is when we feel good and satisfied. Now, the problem here is that wicked people can feel happiness. A wicked man might feel very happy if he sees a Christian getting his car stolen, if he hates God and Christians! He might feel happy to see someone else suffer privation or illness. And serial murderers feel elation when killing people! So, happiness per se is not a very good way to measure how we feel when relating to God.

Joy is a deeper feeling, a happiness we feel even when a good time is overshadowed or obliterated by evil. It tends to delve right down into our innermost being until we know the peace of God. Perhaps we might say ‘happiness’ is like gold-covered silver, but joy is solid gold of the best quality. Both are good.

Many mature Christians testify to an inner deep joy even when their whole world seems to collapse, and perhaps they lose everything. Christians fed to the lions had an unshakeable inner peace and joy in the Lord, though they knew they were soon to die. After all, they could hardly have been ‘happy’ about being mauled! In such scenarios joy is gladness that we belong to God. In itself this is a spiritual gift.

So, while many differentiate joy and happiness, there seems to be no real difference at all, except that joy appears to be ‘deeper’ than happiness brought about by fleeting things. Both are forms of peace with God and beneficial, but joy is much deeper. Yet, how many times do we hear sermons that try to say joy is better? For me, the difference is from God and depends on what God wishes us to know. In ordinary terms we can be made happy by an ice-cream. But, in godly terms, we are made deeply joyous by knowing God is with us.

And then we come to texts such as James 1:2, which says we should be filled with joy when we have been given trials. This is not because we are happy with trials and severe testing, but because we know that when put under such stress we will learn endurance, which leads to a better frame of spiritual mind, pleasing to God. At such times our faith is stretched to near breaking point, and then God sends relief and cessation… and our spirits rejoice beyond ordinary happiness.

What we see is that our REAL happiness does not depend on circumstances and outward (or inward) prompts to make us smile. On this earth we see many long and powerful rivers, but underneath the earth there are many rivers no-one sees. Though we cannot see them they run nevertheless. Thus, we can say that joy and happiness are both true and valid in our lives, and that each applies to different things. But, both are forms of happiness! This is probably why so many of us get confused with the two words and think that one is ‘better’ than the other.

Happiness gleaned from sin is obviously bad and false. Only a sinful mind can find a worthless happiness in sin (Hebrews 11:25). But, joy is more reliable, though it is still happiness. Joy is the result of having good fruit (Galatians 5:22), therefore such joy is spiritually good and pleasing to God. And that satisfies our soul.

We can say, then, that even if a person is joyous, it may not be acceptable or valid. It depends on the source of his joy. If the source is sin, then it is fake, but if it is of God it is true. The end of sinful joy is hell. Joy of and in the Lord drives us onward to want more joy, lasting longer. In this we are experiencing what we will know in Heaven where all sorrow and tears will cease, and when joy will be permanent and overflowing (Isaiah 35:10).


We can get joy and happiness from very different actions. If the action is sinful then the joy or happiness is false though felt as an emotion. A godly happiness may be a ’lighter’ emotional form of joy; joy is itself an emotion, but one based on God’s mind rather than on benefits we perceive to have gained. And more joy is known to Christians whose lives are turned over to God, and whose spiritual fruit has been given aplenty. (We obtain these fruit by obeying the Lord). So, happiness and joy for genuine Christians are much the same, and vary only in depth.

© August 2020

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

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