What is the difference between joy and happiness?
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).
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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." 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.
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Truth about the Christian Life