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The Difference Between Happiness and Joy

Which one do you strive to achieve?

Chris Queen


April 20, 2014 - 8:00 am
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Last week here at PJ Lifestyle, we saw a lively debate over the difference between altruism and giving out of love — particularly in a Judeo-Christian context. My colleagues Walter Hudson and Susan L. M. Goldberg eloquently shared their thoughts on the nature of altruism in a series of compelling posts:

April 6: Altruism Has No Place In Christianity

April 8: Altruism In Religion’s Free Market

April 9: Love And Altruism Prove Opposite

Walter, Susan, our editor David Swindle, and I continued the discussion on Facebook, which morphed into a bigger exploration of faith and religion. At one point, Susan brought up the notion we often hear from secularists that “God doesn’t want us to be happy.” I replied:

I don’t think God wants us to be happy, either. He wants us to be filled with joy. Happiness is temporal and circumstantial, while joy is sustained.

There’s a clear difference between happiness and joy. Circumstances and relationships determine our happiness. An ice cream cone can make you happy. A great comedy can make you happy. An upbeat song (even that ubiquitous Pharrell Williams tune) can make you happy. But happiness is transitory and momentary — and ultimately external. Psychologist Sandra A. Brown writes (particularly in the context of relationships):

Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone….

Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness.

And happiness can disappear as quickly as it comes. The same people who make us happy one moment can hurt us or let us down the next. That great meal you ate can give you unbearable heartburn. You can grow tired of the songs, films, and shows you once loved. A storm can ruin that perfect trip to the beach. The happiness we seek can often disappear without warning.

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All Comments   (4)
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I think happiness includes joy, rather than being different from it. Happiness is the overarching name of all the different versions:
Fun - extremely transient and entirely external happiness
Pleasure - very transient and mostly external happiness
Contentment - transient and external but often long-lasting due to good choices or management
Gladness - a conscious choice to understand and see all the goods in life, resistant to external circumstances
Joy - the fulness of happiness, including the will to recognize God's hand in all things, and to conciously rejoice in the accompanying understanding of the world and the world to come

All of these words get abused like mad, just like gay, which used to be least and lightest version of happiness and a near equivalent to fun, except giddy and brainless and external to an extreme. The meaning of the words as I list them could be easily argued, because I abused their origins a bit to twist them into shape, but the underlying reasons is, I believe, sound. This is all from a book I wrote that will never EVER be published, I would be too embarrassed, but still I think my reasoning was good, just not the execution.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I preached a sermon on this very topic, and agree with the author completely. We have the same joy available to us that Jesus had, while facing the cross. Much more profound and permanent than happiness.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am generally a "happy" person, but I'll experience real "joy" when the Democrats are thrown out of congress.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Instead, strive for joy, and it will sustain you."

I think striving and joy are mutually exclusive and that "joy" might wash over you when striving is out of the room.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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