Joy and Happiness

Joy vs HappinessThis quote is featured in the book The Vanishing Evangelical by Calvin Miller.
I have encountered the conversation on happiness and joy so many times, normally with some level of insufficiency in defining both in contrast. I remember being taught how happiness was not a good thing as a Christian, as we should be seeking joy in Christ. Somehow they contradicted one another. “It’s ok to be happy, but really you should want to be joyful.” This discussion usually went about one level deep.

I ended up adopting the same thinking in my teaching. Not that I have been teaching a lie, but I have always found it hard to put the difference into words, leaving the people I discussed this with walking away with the same expression on their face that I did in the past. There are some translations of the Bible that have chosen to exchange ‘blessed’ with ‘happy’ as well. Thanks for adding to the confusion, exchanging another word no one is sure how to define with yet another term with which we have trouble.

The best connection I could draw with happiness was in it’s root. ‘Hap’ alludes to situations or chance events that ‘happen’ to enter your path of life. You want good ones in order to¬†feel good. Joy then deals with finding pleasant feelings beyond the circumstances that impact the journey. In other words, you will feel joyful even when crappy things are happening. The follow-up question is usually something like, “So, does God not want me to be happy?”

Hmmmm…

Going back to this excerpt from the book, I think I have been agreeing with Peter Kreeft. I just didn’t have the academia-speak to bring it all together. The idea of having no finite opposite to joy is a great way of comparing our attitude towards circumstances we encounter. Joy is hard to define because you cannot find the opposite end of the spectrum on which it lies here on earth. We know what unhappiness feels like.

And yes, God wants you to be happy…but He also needs you to change your outlook on what makes you so.

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