Joy vs. Happiness


It is commonly taught in Christian circles that “happiness” is an emotional state that comes and goes depending on one’s circumstances, while “joy” is a persistant charactaristic of a Christian, given by God, which abides in good times and bad. I’ve heard it taught as far back as I can remember.

This idea has been mentioned in a couple places on this forum recently, which started me wondering what the scriptural basis is for the distinction. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, so would anyone like to point me to some verses?

Sonia :sunglasses:


Hi Sonia:
And yeah, that was me, I guess, who kinda started the happiness vs joy debate. Unintentionally though I hasten to add.

I was talking, appropriately enough, on a site about Universalism, about the ideas of free will. For it seem obvious that one great criticism of Universalism is that it does not grasp the nature of “free will”. And I mentioned, almost off hand, that one example of the reality of free will is that we may “choose” to be happy.

On this I was corrected by a couple of our members that I was confusing happiness with joy. OK right. Whatever. It was lost and wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about then.

But here we are in your question and it’s a good one I think. Here are a few of my thoughts…

Seems to me this is more C.S. Lewis than it is the bible; though I have little doubt that such a concept as Lewis set forth is quite biblical and sensible. His book “Surprised by Joy” is itself a joy; he makes the clear distinction between that momentary emotion which is most commonly identified as “happiness” and that utterly and compelling conviction that everything really was going to be alright with God; let’s call that “joy”. And it is very easy to identify with Lewis as he charts his way through the grasp of the Christian life.

Ravi Zacharias talks about it in a slightly different way – though he too is intimately familiar with CS Lewis. He talks about how the Christian goes forth having all the BIG questions (ie where he comes from, why he is here, where he is going…) answered which leaves only the “little” questions. Thus one can live his life in a state of something like confidence because he knows the big answers. And that state is something like what CS Lewis means by Joy. Hey; it took him a whole book to say it!!!

And of course there’s a little bit of pop Psychology mixed in as well I think: happiness is that fleeting, not to be trusted (but it’s OK to enjoy its temporary comfort) emotion, while “joy” gets the more exalted and lofty status of being the noble truth in the whole matter. Can’t trust happiness (nice as it is…) but can trust joy; that inner conviction that all is going according to plan in God’s great Universe.

Reading the Psalms might highlight this kind of dynamic – though I can’t think of a specific chapter that says it best. That God is there, and moves in our realm, and seeks and tries and comforts is to be for us something like joy. An inner state of mind. While maybe happiness is that fleeting thing that happens in between Davids incredible lows and despair.

And by the way, when I mentioned happiness as something we could freely choose, what I meant was it is a mindset by which we can live; even though our inner “feelings” might be screaming that we display outward fear and despair. And of course I’m thinking of all those folks I’ve known and worked with who demonstrate, in the attitudes they bring to work each day, those qualities of hope and courage and life and anticipation when I know for a fact their circumstances nearly crush them. My admiration for them is enormous of course. And what I’ve thus labeled as “happiness” is anything but a fleeting emotion. These people have simply chosen to live a demeanor and aura and ethic of happiness – even when it looks like their life sucks!!!

Have little clue how they actually DO that, and if someone told me all I was seeing was their inner joy moving their lives I’d not have an argument…