I hear it all the time. “I just want to be happy” or “I only want (insert name) to be happy.” What I have never heard is, “I just want to be joyful.” Who doesn’t want happiness? Who would prefer joy? And, what’s the difference?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting happiness, but knowing the nuances between the two words may change your perspective on life.
In contemporary usage, happiness means many things. Most definitions focus on a state of being or mindfulness associated with or the result of life lived with chance, risk, and uncertainty. For example, “I hope he will be happy in his new job.” Happiness in this instance will be a combination of personal efforts and many unknowns. In other words, if certain conditions are not met, there may be no happiness. In this example, luck is a major condition for happiness, and it is interesting to note that, according to many sources, happiness comes from the Old Norse term happ meaning “luck” or “chance.”
A further element is intentionality. One may intentionally choose to do what may contribute to happiness or to be happy regardless of outcomes. Or to be intentionally miserable.
In contrast to luck or chance, joy provides a different perspective on what it is we really crave or are made for. Let’s begin with how the word joy is used in the Psalms (all in the King James Version for the beauty of its language):
“Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Psalm 4:7
“Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy.” Psalm 16:11
“How lovely is they dwelling place, O Lord of hosts. My soul longs, yea faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:1-2
To this let us add Jeremiah (8:10), “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
In light of the above, consider this definition of joy; In the book, The 4:8 Principle; The Secret to a Joy-Filled Life, author Tommy Newberry write, “Joy is an outward sign of inward faith in the promises of God.”
From these examples, we note that joy is greater than wealth (grain and wine abundance), is a pathway (to a life blessed by God), is the dwelling place of the heart (inner being), and is a special kind of strength. And a final word: the ultimate joy is Christ’s joy which is the capacity given through the Spirit to enjoy God. It is to His joy that we aspire (…that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete-John 15:11).
What does this all mean?
It doesn’t mean that we should get caught up in definitions; it is the end state, not the definition, that matters. Further, attitude plays an important role. What this means to me is that, yes, I’d like to be happy; yes, I desire to choose to be happy (but not always!) but more than happy I desire to be joyful, and that the only way to experience joy is through faith in God. And like happiness, I can choose joy or not. I do not have to select one over the other. But life is life, luck is luck, and God is God. More importantly, God was, is, and always will be, and exists with the promise of a love that refuses not to love. Think about that and don’t limit yourself to mere happiness.