Joy vs. Happiness. What’s the Difference?

We can all agree that, at some level, we all seek to be happy. Right? I mean, c’mon, it is the mantra of our age. The world tells us that humans ultimately exist to, what? BE HAPPY. Myriads of songs and books have been written about how to find or pursue happiness. We can eat the best foods, drive the best cars, wear the best clothes, spend weeks meditating, work less, work more, vacation longer, you name it. But for some reason, happiness is always so short-lived that not too long after we “feel” this sense of happiness, or accomplish whatever it was that we were striving for, the essential sense of happiness is gone…and we’re left looking for the next best thing.

As society elevates this idea of happiness, I’m automatically led to wonder what God thinks about it. And then it hits me…God never talks about pursuing happiness. In fact, His idea of pursuing happiness is completely opposite of ours. I know what you’re thinking…God doesn’t want us to experience any happiness. He wants us to be miserable and not have any fun, right?

Wrong.

You see, God doesn’t talk about happiness because He talks about something better. He talks about joy. He talks about joy a lot, actually. Like, He’s really adamant about us experiencing joy.

God’s picture of human flourishing is that your pursuit should not be happiness…because happiness is cheap, and it betrays you. Your pursuit should be joy, because joy is unshakeable and transcends your circumstances. Joy is more than just what happens to you.

I recently heard a story about a young woman’s funeral. Her funeral was a good yet hard one. Some of the hardest funerals are of people under the age of 50. The young woman who had passed away, Diana, was 49. She lost a long battle with cancer. Now, Diana had some unique components of her life. For one, she married her high school sweetheart. She also had a group of six women, who all spoke at the funeral, that have all been friends since ninth grade. Over the last 30 years, the girls who met as freshmen in high school, went off to college, got married, and had kids about the same time, which they all raised together. All six women also loved Jesus deeply. At the funeral, there was this profound testimony of how they had done life together well and how they had hurt together through Diana’s cancer—how they had prayed and walked with her. They had watched her fight the good fight. They experienced her faith strengthen as her body weakened. They watched her lose this physical battle peacefully, rooted in the most transcending kind of hope imaginable. There were tears and snot and loss at the funeral, yet there was a palatable, tangible joy in the room. It wasn’t a happy day, but it was a day filled with joy.

See, friend, this is the difference between joy and happiness. This is why we pursue joy and not happiness, because happiness betrays us. In fact, everyone you know (including yourself) would have a testimony of something you thought would make you happy…only to finally get it and find out it betrayed you. It only made you happy for a second or two. Joy doesn’t work that way.

God is very serious about the pursuit of joy, not cheap, transient, here-for-a-moment-and-gone-the-next-moment happiness, but eternal, soul-saturating, life-transforming joy.

C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia novels, among other books, once said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Oof.

You see, the rhythm of Scriptures is the fullness of joy, and that is found in Jesus. That’s what He meant when He said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the fullest. What’s the purpose for which I came? It’s not condemnation. I haven’t come to bring condemnation. I’ve come to rescue you from condemnation. I’ve come to save. On top of that, I’ve come so you might have the fullness of life,” (John 10:10 and John 3:17) In other words, you can’t experience the fullness of life without Him.

Now hear me out. I’m not saying you can’t experience pleasure. That would be absurd. People experience pleasure apart from Jesus all the time. What I am telling you is that you won’t experience the fullness of joy possible for human beings…outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The question then becomes “how?” Since we are naturally joy-seekers, how do we navigate past lesser joys to ultimate joy in Jesus?

How do we not spend our one-dollar in the toy aisle and instead work towards getting the thing that is of most value?

In Jeremiah 29:13, God says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

We must seek him.

Friends, God is here, wanting for you to seek Him. Promising that He will be found. He is not playing Hide and Go Seek with you, but just not coming out. He is not a cruel Father. Do you remember playing the game as a kid? Did you ever just give up? “Forget this. It’s been like three hours.” While your dad is in the attic, peeking down through a hole like, “Haha, I won.” At that point, you’re like, “Forget you then,” and you start watching cartoons. That would be cruel, and funny. But see, that’s not what God does.

All we need to do is seek. Look for Him. You WILL find Him. He will make Himself known. And in making Himself known, you will experience that holiday at sea—the true, fulfilling, fullness of joy. The kind that supersedes the transient, quick and betraying type of happiness.

 

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