The Journey to Joy

“What is joy? A sunbeam between two clouds.” ~Dorothée de Luzy (1747–1830)

This past Sunday I heard a sermon on TV by Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, titled Keep Your Joy (click here for YouTube Video of the sermon). It was a very good reminder of just how important it is for us to keep our joy in the midst of trying circumstances, whether it’s the daily hassle of dealing with rush hour traffic or something more long term such as losing a job and whole lot more that can come along with it, or coming to terms with the death of a significant other– a parent, sibling, friend, etc.

I tend to believe that joy is difference from happiness. Joy doesn’t depend on the immediate external circumstances but comes from within and has deep roots if we’ve learned how to cultivate joy in our lives. Happiness, on the other hand, is a more immediate feeling that comes from something good (usually external) that has happened in our lives, such as listening to a favorite song on the radio that we haven’t heard in years; or a sunny day after days of dreary weather, or a job promotion… it’s any number of things that bring a smile to our face.

Joy has more depth. Happiness is flighty–here today and gone tomorrow. Joy sticks around when happiness is long gone. Joy is in it for the long haul. Joy is still there when the job is lost, or the divorce is final, or the parent dies.

An article titled, What is the Difference between Joy and Happiness?” found on CompellingTruth.org states the difference between the two:

Happiness is based on an experience or other external stimulus. For instance, getting engaged to be married may result in happiness. Happiness also tends to disappear when the situation changes. If, shortly after becoming engaged, a person wrecks his/her car, the happiness generated by the pleasurable experience of becoming engaged will most likely disappear because of the terrible experience of wrecking the car. The Greek word translated “happy” in the New Testament appears approximately fifty times in the New Testament. Five times it is translated “happy” and forty-five times it is translated “blessed” (numbers vary in different translations).

On the other hand, joy is based on internal well-being or the anticipation of well-being. To follow the above example, an engaged couple is often not happy. Circumstances in their lives—disagreements, for example—are not pleasurable and generate unhappiness rather than happiness. But, at the same time, most engaged couples would say they have joy almost all the time because of their anticipated marriage. The joy they have is independent of the current circumstances. The New Testament has several words that are translated “joy” or “rejoice” in the New Testament, and they appear several hundred times. 

One of the most striking places is in James 1:2, where the Scripture says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Having “trials of various kinds” will definitely not lead to happiness, but Christians are told that it is reason for joy. The reason for joy is found in the following two verses, “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 1:2-4). Joy here is based on the anticipated results of the trials, not the trials themselves. 

Another place in Scripture that emphasizes joy is the entire book of Philippians. Paul wrote this book from prison in Rome, which was not a happy place. He begins with a profession of joy in chapter 1, verses 3 through 6, when he says “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He didn’t say that he was happy—indeed, circumstances fought against that—but he prayed with joy because of the confidence he had in the anticipated results of God’s work. He admits that some were preaching the gospel thinking it would cause trouble for Paul, but he goes on to say, “… what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NIV). Paul goes on to exhort the Philippians to seek a relationship with God that will bring them joy.

It is evident in the Scriptures that joy because of our relationship with God is to be desired more than happiness in our circumstances. Happiness may be good, but joy is much better. Happiness is often fleeting because circumstances change, but joy in Christ is eternal. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Is there a Relationship Between Happiness and Joy?” by Dr. Cheryl A. MacDonald, clinical psychologist, RN, writer, and business owner, she states:

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….

Happiness is a blurred emotion. It can mean different things to many people, and part of a psychologist’s quest is to identify all of the distinctive applications of the word. Most of us will agree that happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive feelings ranging from contentment to intense joy. Those who believe in positive psychology strive to apply research methods to answer questions about what happiness is and how it can be attained. It is well known that happy people are physically and emotionally healthier than unhappy ones. There is evidence suggesting that individuals can increase their level happiness with actions like exercising to release endorphins. It is also well known that various practices have been associated with happiness, such as eating well…. 

Being joyful requires feeling connected to other people in life, with nature, by appreciating the arts, and it requires an acceptance of life, as it is, in the present. Sometimes life does not treat us well, financial devastation, becoming ill, a divorce, developing a chronic illness, becoming disabled, death of a loved one, or adapting to growing older. These transitions or challenges are all aspects of life, and we all will experience them in varying degrees until the day we die. Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment, despite life’s challenges. Joy is an internal lasting emotional condition…. 

Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.  Joy in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life, but is an attitude of the heart or spirit….

Is there a relationship between happiness and joy? Yes and No. Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is something that is temporary. Joy is an inner, conscious belief. Happiness is external. Something people may feel for a short time, for example, when they buy something that they desire. Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment when someone is in the middle of a life storm. Happiness is not present in a life storm….

[So] strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today! (Quote source here.)

Need more joy in your life (regardless of your circumstances)? Ask for it. Jesus stated in John 16:24Until now you have asked nothing in My name…

Ask, and you will receive . . .

That your joy . . .

May be full . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy” by for KING & COUNTRY:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here