Have you ever had a front row seat to the comings and goings of happiness and joy? I recently witnessed such an interchange.
Scrolling through photos capturing a beautiful moment in the life of one of my adult children, I couldn’t help but smile as an undeniable warmth filled my heart. Moments later my husband called with terrible news – a dear friend had passed away unexpectedly. Shock and concern replaced the smile on my face. A deep ache rose within me, pushing aside the warmth that had just been mine.
Such a surreal moment – that moment when happiness and sorrow collide, raging war against one another. That moment when surface happiness takes second place to devastating circumstances. That moment when underlying joy must press its way through the devastation, reminding us of the hope that is ours.
In today’s post we’ll address some of the ins and outs of happiness and joy.
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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT HAPPINESS AND JOY?
The Bible is filled with verses that speak – sometimes directly, other times indirectly – about happiness and joy. According to Bible Gateway, the word happy is referenced 46 times in the King James Version while joy is mentioned a whopping 187 times. And, if you were to search other derivatives or synonyms of these words, you would uncover a myriad of other verses. This tells me there’s something to be said about happiness and joy.
The KJV Bible Dictionary defines happiness as “the agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain.”
The Unger’s Bible Dictionary describes joy as “a delight of the mind arising from the consideration of a present, or assured possession of a future good.” An example of this type of joy would be gladness. Unger’s also describes joy of a spiritual nature as one that is “permanent and unspeakable”.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAPPINESS AND JOY?
As evidenced in the personal story I shared above – and likely identifiable in your own life as well – happiness often fluctuates from one moment to the next. As wonderful as it is to experience happiness, it is – at best – a circumstantial emotion or state of being. One that is very much contingent upon the outward circumstances we encounter.
And if our own life experiences aren’t enough, we see biblical proof of this in Proverbs 15:13 – “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.”
Joy, on the other hand, is something more deeply rooted. Something more lasting. Something tied more to the Holy Spirit’s presence within us than the condition of the world around us. In essence, the closer our vicinity to Christ during tumultuous times, the better we’ll fare.
Habakkuk reiterated this truth by listing many things that could go wrong and then, in the same breath, declaring his decision to rejoice even if those difficulties materialized. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
What is it about a relationship with God that makes this possible? The joy of His presence abiding within us is what makes all the difference. His presence enables us to withstand – albeit battered and bruised – the unbearable conditions of life’s hardest moments. Joy is attainable.
Because of God’s presence in our lives, we can experience joy regardless of the problems stretched out before us. This truth is beautifully stated in Psalm 16:11 – “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
BIBLE VERSES ABOUT HAPPINESS
The most common characteristic of happiness is its dependency on the often unstable and unpredictable happenings we call life. This outward expression and its fickle reputation is depicted clearly throughout Scripture.
One such example is found in the story of Jonah. In the midst of Jonah’s trouble, God provided him a much-needed reprieve. This provision made Jonah very happy, but his happiness was short-lived. His source of comfort was temporary, vanishing as quickly as it appeared. And with its disappearance, Jonah’s despair returned.
“Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered… God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’” (Jonah 4:6-7; 9)
We find another example of fleeting happiness in the book of Esther. In this story, Haman, one of King Ahasuerus’ high-ranking officials, began his day in a state of happiness. One brief encounter with Esther’s adoptive father, Mordecai, and Haman’s blissfulness came to an abrupt halt.
“Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai.” (Esther 5:9)
Isaiah 32:20 serves as a great reminder that abundance (whether in our relationships, in our finances, or in our health), can impact our happiness. “You will be happy as you sow seed beside abundant water, and as you let oxen and donkeys range freely.” If this is true, and we know that it is, then the opposite must also be true: the absence of perceived blessings can steal our happiness.
BIBLE VERSES ABOUT BEING HAPPY AND ENJOYING LIFE
The key to happiness for a believer rests in knowing everything that could possibly make us happy comes from God. When we acknowledge God as the ultimate source of all goodness, our perspective on happiness takes new shape. No longer will it be about what I want to do as much as how I want to live. This shift in thinking – this pursuing of holiness more than happiness – causes us to notice, and enjoy, more of life’s happy moments. It’s this intermingling of holiness and happiness that makes life truly enjoyable.
We’re invited into this type of living by way of a parable in Matthew 25:21, 23 – “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Psalm 68:3 extends the invitation in this manner – “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.”
Then in Psalm 128:1 we’re told, “How happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.”
BIBLE VERSES ABOUT HAPPINESS AND CONTENTMENT
Does happiness produce contentment? And if not, where does contentment come from?
Perhaps Paul answers this best in Philippians 4:11-13 – “I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 12 I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.”
According to Paul, true contentment comes from Christ. Not from feelings of happiness, here today and gone tomorrow. Not from the stuff we accumulate, also here today and gone tomorrow. If everything in life is stripped away and happiness evades us, contentment remains within reach because God remains within reach.
When we need a place of refuge, God is there. “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.” (Psalm 5:11)
God enables us to enjoy, accept and be happy with what we’ve been given. “Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiates 5:19)
BIBLE VERSES ON JOY
Unlike happiness, joy is actually a fruit of the Spirit. Such fruit is evidence of God’s Spirit living within us as told to us in Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.”
God’s presence within us makes it possible for us to experience the sustaining, deep-seated joy we so desperately need. A couple of verses explaining this joy are listed below; many others can be found throughout Scripture.
“Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” (Psalms 21:6)
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
JOY AND HAPPINESS IN THE BIBLE
In a world where turmoil and difficulty are inevitable, happiness and joy truly are gifts from God. The smiles we’re afforded in the good moments help carry us through the less desirable ones. And when those hard moments force our smiles away, we reach for the joy embedded deep within us. This merging together of joy and sorrow spurs us toward what sometimes feels like a battleground.
We call joy out of its resting place and into battle formation. To step into the position where our momentary happiness once stood. To hold firm its stance in the wake of oncoming devastation. Like a soldier readied for war, the joy of our Lord both stands tall and crouches low, assuming the best position for victory.
How do we attain victory? By sticking close to God through the battle. By clinging to the joy of His presence rather than groping for bits and pieces of dwindling happiness. By coming out of the battle – scarred and shaken, yes. But also carrying with us the permanent, unshakeable joy that is ours through Christ.
What Scriptures resonate with you when it comes to happiness and joy? Drop them in the comments below.