What’s the difference between Happiness and joy?

I recently watched a documentary on the attributes of happiness and the human condition to pursue it. It did a great job of describing how happiness isn’t what we think it is, and we find true happiness in places we don’t normally think to look.

But happiness isn’t a fruit of the spirit, joy is.  And it is this truth that sparked a Jr High student to ask me to describe the differences. So, here are a few of the differences that I think sets apart the two, and why one is more divine than the other….

1. Happiness is a reaction to things, while joy is a conscious decision we choose.

When people talk about being happy, it is usually in reference to things that “make” them happy. Happiness is something we create with our surroundings, our possessions and our relationships. Things that bring us pleasure usually are referred to as things that make us happy. When negative things happen to us, or things we do not like (things that do not bring pleasure) happen around us or we do not have the things that make us happy, we cannot create happiness. It is in these tough times, we must choose joy.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds…” -James 1:2

We choose joy because it is not bound by our circumstances, wealth, environment or history. We can then become joyful in times that are tough, because joy is a decision we choose. Instead of being a slave to this world, and chasing after things that make us happy, we can walk on fearless and free because no matter what comes our way, we’ve chosen joy.

2. Happiness is a feeling and joy is a state of being.

Happiness is an emotion. It is the reaction that comes when we feel things that bring us pleasure. Happiness comes when we hear a good song that reminds us of a good event that happened, or read a love note, or smell a good meal cooking. Happiness is simply the emotion we choose to display our content state of mind.  So someone could feel happy if they get away with committing a crime, or if they lie and are not caught, or feel happy while being selfish. There are even some people out there who feel happy when they are inflicting pain on others. See, happiness is an emotion, and emotions are subjective. This means that what makes one person happy does not necessarily make every one happy.

Joy is a state of being. It is the decision to look at every situation in a positive way. Joy is a way of looking at things. I would even submit that being joyful is more closely related to being hopeful than happy. Joy is like a filter that all information coming in and all emotions going out passes through.

3. You can pursue happiness, while joy is available everywhere.

The pursuit of happiness is a never ending journey. The decision to look at life with joy can be yours right now if you want.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” -Romans 15:13


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