Okay, I’m going to tackle this issue once more. It’s one that keeps popping up. A friend and I were talking about whether it makes you “happy” or “joyful” to take the time to notice the blessings in each day. So, what is the difference between joy and happiness? Why do I say pursue joy, not happiness?
The way I see it, happiness is something we search for in our activities, possessions, relationships, etc. It’s the stuff we use to try to fill those little holes in our hearts, to make us feel like we have something worth living for, worth smiling about. And then, when we finally get what makes us happy, we decide that it isn’t enough to really satisfy, and so we go out looking for the next best thing. And the next and the next.
What is it that most people say their main goal in life is? To be happy! Parents just want their kids to “be happy.” But what they mean is that they want life to go their way. They want things to be good so they can be happy. But “happiness” is fleeting. It is based on circumstances. It’s what we feel when life is what we want it to be and when we get what we want. But it only lasts as long as this is the case, as long as we can find something else to keep filling that void.
But joy? Joy is different. Joy isn’t something that we go out looking for. It’s not in the “next best thing” that we use to fill those holes or soothe the ache. It’s not based on if everything is going our way or if we have the things we want. Joy is what we get when we open our eyes to the beauty and blessings in the life that we already have, holes and all. Joy is what we find when we learn to cherish what we already have, when we begin to see God in the good things and the bad things in our lives. Joy is knowing that God is here with us, no matter what life throws our way. Happiness is earthly, but joy is spiritual.
Happiness is finally getting that bigger house; joy is finding the blessings of the smaller one. Happiness is getting a raise, getting more; joy is embracing the little you have. Happiness is getting your nails done and buying a new outfit; joy is being thankful for the hand-me-downs and for the fact that, even if you don’t have much money, you’ve got a wonderful family that loves to be around each other. Happiness is installing that new swimming pool; joy is finding beauty in a daisy. Happiness is Disneyworld; joy is loving your own backyard.
Don’t misunderstand me, happiness is not wrong. It is not wrong to add more delight to our lives, to get “more” and “bigger,” and to buy things that make us smile. But if we haven’t learned to be thankful for little and to find the blessings hidden in the hard times and pain, then we will never know deep, lasting, unshakable joy.
As someone who has never been able to reach that “comfortable life” - who has little money, few relationships, few possessions, and little “success” - I had to stop thinking that “things will finally be good when . . .” Because “when” doesn’t always come. I may never have money to buy the things that make me “happy.” So I had to find joy in the life I have now. Counting your blessings leads to thanksgiving, which leads to a thankful heart, which leads to contentment, which leads to joy. Joy can’t be bought; it needs to discovered and embraced in the life we have today, finding the blessings even in the mud of life. Contentment has to start now, or it never starts at all.
And once we learn to do this – to discover the blessings of the moment, of the trial, of the pain – we begin to live lives that are more full and vibrant and sweet. Pain, heartache, longing, and unfulfillment are the enemies of happiness, but not of joy. Joy can still be found - even when we are not “happy” - as long as we embrace all of God’s goodness, hidden in plain sight. And if nothing else, I simply have joy in knowing that this life is not all there is. The best is yet to come!