Joy Vs. Happiness

Christians talk a lot about joy. But can you define it?

I used to think it was something distinctly different from happiness – that being happy is worldly but being joyful is godly. But that’s not actually true.

In his book Happiness, Randy Alcorn makes a powerful case that in the Bible, happiness and joy are the same thing. 

Alcorn says:

“Today, if you ask a group of Christians, ‘What does joy mean?’ most will grope for words, with only one emphatic opinion: that joy is different from happiness. This is like saying that rain isn’t wet or ice isn’t cold. Scripture, dictionaries, and common language don’t support this separation” (p. 97). 

Just take a look at these verses:

  • “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” (Psalm 68:3, NIV)

  • “Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy.” (Is. 65:18, NLT)

  • “Rejoice in the Lord and be happy, you who are godly. Shout for joy.” (Psalm 32:11, NET)

Joy and happiness are not enemies, but synonyms for the same reality. Based on biblical language, we can use the words interchangeably.

So we could say happiness is a fruit of the Spirit. We’re commanded to be happy. But what does that actually mean?

Here’s my definition: Christian joy (or happiness) is an emotion arising out of a cultivated affection for Christ, which leads to delight in his world.

Joy is more than a fleeting feeling, but it’s not less than a godly emotion.

And it’s something we must fight desperately for, recognizing that the health of our souls is at stake. 

Words matter, and definitions matter, and we should work hard to understand, believe, and live what God calls us to do.

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