It’s easy to be happy. This may sound controversial or tone-deaf, but it’s true. Pure joy, on the other hand, is harder to achieve. Before we get into the dissimilarities between the two, and the real power of joy, here is how I learned the difference.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the desire to be happy. I wanted to feel content and at peace for the rest of my life. That feeling had long eluded me. I didn’t have an easy start in life and fought many inner and outer battles from a very young age.
Like most of us, I believed I’d find this through success in my career and love life and a healthy spiritual and social life. I worked hard enough for them that I achieved the happiness I longed for.
But it wasn’t enough, or as strong as I had hoped, and it wasn’t lasting. After some deep introspection and a few heartfelt conversations with my spiritual mentor, I discovered that what I really wanted was joy.
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So, what exactly is the difference between joy and happiness?
Happiness vs. Joy
There are many definitions of joy. One that stands out is from the Cambridge dictionary, which describes joy simply as “great happiness.”
This implies that, at its core, joy is greater than happiness. This may seem trivial, but it’s a life-changing point.
Here are a few more differences I’ve discovered.
1. The source
Happiness is often something you actively work for and achieve on a surface level from material gains. It is that feeling of elation when you finish a project, get appreciation from a friend, or visit with loved ones.
Joy is not something you work for in the same way; it is given as a gift from God.
2. The longevity
The biggest shock for me was discovering that happiness is not joy. Happiness is circumstantial and fleeting, driven by outward, worldly forces. It will never be as sufficient and long-lasting as we hope.
With joy, the roots run deeper, hold stronger, and last longer. The fact that it’s also a gift from God means you have pretty much tapped into a never-ending flow of anointment.
3. The power
Happiness may feel like a powerful emotion—which, to be fair, it is. However, when you experience joy, you realize how transient and superficial feelings of happiness are in comparison.
The power of joy also inspires us to share the feeling with other people. This is referred to in psychology as active joy.
4. The actual feeling
From my experience, happiness is best described as an emotional high. Your spirit feels fluttery and elevated. It is also often associated with a desire to get another, often stronger, hit for the same feeling.
Joy has more subtlety to its power. It is associated with the gratefulness and inner peace that come from God. When your heart is filled with joy, you are not desperate to keep the feeling going; deep down, you know it will always be there.
Joy as a Gift from God
For context, let’s look at a few Bible verses and what they say about anointing with joy.
“God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”Psalms 45:7
“To provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”Isaiah 61:3
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”Hebrews 1:9
These and other scriptures describe joy as a gift with which we are anointed.
Anointment was traditionally done using precious oils like olive oil. To apply something so highly valued signaled high regard and intention, whether it was anointing a child during dedication or a priest for service.
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The idea of God anointing us with oil is symbolic. He is blessing us, whom He loves dearly and holds in high regard, with something of great value. This means the only way to pure joy is through God and His gracious provision.
Seek Out the Joy You Need from God
If it is joy you seek, ask God for it. Then be patient and trust the process. Joy is something precious that takes time to mature and become solidly rooted in your being. As you ask for joy, make sure to also pray for patience to wait it out. It will be worth it in the end.