The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

We seek happiness even though joy is within reach. This is why we (especially church planters) need to know the difference between joy and happiness.

The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

Why would we trade the everlasting for a handful of vapor? Why would we drink an imitation when the true fountain flows nearby? Yet we do. Subtly, unaware, we seek happiness—even though joy is within reach, every day. This is why we (especially church planters) need to know the difference between joy and happiness.

The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

God save me from the pursuit of happiness and deliver me into the place of joy. Joy is one third of God’s kingdom (Romans 14:17). Joy is number two on the hit parade of Spirit-fruit (Galatians 5: 22-23) – there’s never a law against joy. Joy can make you sell everything you have in order to gain everlasting treasure (Matthew 13:44). And even though some translations blunder into using the word happiness, joy is the Master’s reward (Matthew 25:21).

It’s a sucker’s bargain: we’re offered happiness cheap, but joy awaits, an everlasting gift unavailable at any price. Happiness is “As Seen on TV”; joy is finding an actual pub where everyone does, indeed, know your name. Happiness is the echo of laughter; joy is the source of all merriment. Happiness is now and me, me, me; joy is forever, and for all of us.

Beware of modern happy-talk, the kind that tells us to find our own happy-place. All this talk about self-fulfillment causes me to ask whether Jesus felt “fulfilled” as he hung on the cross; the Biblical witness tells us he despised the shame and endured the pain—all for the joy set before him. Indeed, on the very night he faced betrayal, Jesus wasn’t into happy-talk: he was all about joy. He understood the difference between joy and happiness.

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:20-24)

Search these things out, church planters. Learn the difference between joy and happiness. Take an inventory of joy. Joy brings forth songs from prison; joy is the secret keep of the insulted, the persecuted, and the subjects of vicious lies. The glory of God inhabits joy. Joy is the stuff of resurrection. Joy is the oil of anointing, both for the king, and his subjects.

And we are the children of joy.


This article on the difference between joy and happiness originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His devotional book "Deeper Grace" is available at He currently lives in central Kentucky. He's also the author of of "The Impossible Mentor", a deep dive into the foundations of discipleship.