Seek happiness, not just joy



Compared to joy, happiness has gotten a bad reputation. Particularly among Christians.

In the recent past (30-40 years) we have been taught that there is a significant difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a temporary emotion; joy is an abiding attitude. Christians have joy; the “world” is relegated to mere happiness. In a nicely written article, author Randy Alcorn debunks this misunderstanding. He makes it clear that, biblically, there is no difference between joy and happiness. Click here for the article.

But for a moment, let’s explore the premise that joy may be deeper and more enduring and happiness is short-lived and momentary. Okay; what’s wrong with that? They both sound good to me.

I value, even pursue, moments of happiness.

  • Several months ago I shared a meal with 27 friends in a restaurant in Helsinki. We talked, laughed, and ate reindeer tongue. To this day, I pause and smile when I reminisce about that time.
  • My wife and I walked, slowly and uncovered, through a pouring rain in New Orleans until we were soaked to the bone. What a wonderful moment.
  • I am happy when holding my hands around a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning.
  • When my grandson falls asleep on my chest and his breathing syncs with mine, it is a fleeting but transcendent moment.

If you seldom have “happy moments” you might not be looking for them. (See my post on the Badder-Meinhof phenomenon.)

A story is told of a monk who, while out walking one day, is confronted by a ferocious, man-eating tiger. He slowly backs away from the animal, only to find that he is trapped at the edge of a high cliff. The tiger snarls with hunger and pursues the monk whose only hope of escape is to suspend himself over the abyss by holding onto a vine that grows at its edge. As the monk dangles from the cliff, a mouse begins to gnaw on the vine. If he climbs back up, the tiger will devour him; if he remains clutching the vine he faces the certain death of a long fall onto jagged rocks. The slender vine begins to give way, and death is imminent. Just then the monk notices a lovely ripe wild strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. He plucks the succulent berry, eats it, and says, “This lovely strawberry, how sweet it tastes.”

At the core of my being, I do want to possess a steady and enduring sense of peace, contentment, and hope—perhaps we can call it, joy. But I also value moments of relief from the unrelenting stress and pressure of life—perhaps we can call it, happiness.

Let’s embrace both.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

14 Replies to “Seek happiness, not just joy”

  1. Don,

    Thank you for this post! I’ve often thought that we as Christians overanalyze the definitions of happy and joy and we’ve done a disservice in the process.

    Be Happy, don’t worry…

    Julie Mac

    1. Thanks, Julie, for sharing your thoughts. I think we need, and can have, both. Sometimes we just don’t recognize or take time to enjoy, moments of happiness. For instance, I was babysitting my 2-year old grandson last night at his house. At 4:00 a.m. Stuart, the dog, woke everyone up, so Benjamin and I spent 30 wonderful moments cuddling, laughing and playing. Priceless. I’m glad I seized the moment. Take care, Don

  2. Don,
    Thank you for your consistency as you engage in insightful and contemplative subject matter. You possess a penchant for the deeper transactions of the heart and mind within the domain of the sacred. Maintaining “joy” seems to me to almost be a steady, even unconscious posture that leans “up and to the right” of all of life, much like the posture of living confident in the abiding trust that God is sovereign and ever in absolute, providential control. Happiness does appear to be such a strong biproduct of the consistent posture of living the joyous Christian life. It appears to me to be a quality and an actual event that leaves the stream of steady, healthy, emotional stability, and by the graces of the Almighty, affords us mountain peaks of experiences along the steady climbs of the ranges of this life. Indeed, both are treasures and both necessary!!!!

    1. Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your thoughts. You have a wonderful way with words. You bring up an interesting point about happiness being the byproduct of the joyous Christian life. I know unbelievers who enjoy moments of genuine happiness, so I don’t know if happiness is limited to believers. Don

  3. Hey Don, Have you ever read anything by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the concept of flow and the pursuit of happiness? He has some very interesting research on happiness.

    1. Hi Jim. I have read some of his writings (by the way…how what would it be like to go through life with a name like his? Imagine having to spell it to people.) I remember this concept of flow but will reread to find his thoughts on happiness. Thanks for our friendship. Don (PS – I still can’t believe you rode your bike that far…)

  4. First I thank you for the time, energy and research you put into your writings. This one troubles me only because of the amount of time and energy that seems to have been put into this thought and I cannot see any great benefit from this article. The other concern is this is the first one that cannot be supported by Scripture.
    I am sure that you are aware of John 15: 11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” One of the main truths in this Scripture is that divine Joy comes from the outside, it is not based on having some kind of a nice experience. The other truth is that there are two types of joy. Divine joy which comes from our Lord and our natural joy which is probably based on some type of experience. As I read your examples happiness was always a by product of some type of pleasant experience. Joy from our Lord comes as a gift. No place in our Lord’s Word does he say being happy is wrong or that we should not have experiences that produce feelings of being happy. I think we can both agree the only way being happy can go wrong is when a person makes being happy a goal and sad to say there a fairly large number of immature Christians who kind of have this filling that our Lord is suppose to give them the feeling of being happy. Happy feelings are always the the results of a warm pleasant experience. Joy can be in us even in the most difficult situation, because divine joy does not depend on the person. The point is that these two wonderful emotions come from two different sources. I think there are so many other divine truths that carry life giving and life changing power, and it is a blessing when you use your divine gifting to take our Lord’s Living Word in such a way to bring hope and and divine life to a hurting sin filled world. Merle Gebers

    1. Merle, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think I’ll stick with what I wrote. It’s wise and beneficial to seek both happiness and joy. Were you able to read Randy Alcorn’s article that I referred to in my post? Kind regards, Don.

  5. I really enjoyed this article as it made me think about how we can get caught in the legality of pursuit of long lasting Joy, going beyond my circumstances, which I definitely agree with, to the detriment of allowing ourselves to enjoy happiness of the moment generally coming from our circumstance’s.

    I love the truth of enjoying both rather than to minimize happiness.

  6. Happiness is temporary, while joy lasts a lifetime. If you don’t have both you’re missing out on the blessings God has given you. There are scriptures that point to both. When the says blessed in psalm 1.1 or the beatitudes in Matthew it means Happy. In philippians Paul says rejoice it is the essence of joy in the believers.

  7. I like reading the post and article but it raises the question that is being attacked in the article. Can you experience joy in the Lord while suffering, which does not make you feel happy? That is the issue at heart of the this debate. No question that the words can be used interchangeably in some contexts, but there are a variety of aspects to joy. However you want to play with the words, the concept of joy experienced under hardship is different than a feeling of happiness.

    1. Hi Chip, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right, we can be sustained by the enduring joy while not being very happy about present circumstances, but my point is, that doesn’t mean that we should minimize or dismiss moments of happiness. It’s not either or, but, hopefully, both. Take care, Don

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