Joy Versus Happiness
By Colleen Soldate
Director of Caring Ministries
Prior to March 17, 2020, I would have never imagined the unexpected, mindboggling events about to unfold. For 12 long months we have altered our daily routines in order to observe necessary safety precautions against a life-threatening virus. As I look ahead, I have a renewed sense of hope for this year.
Recently, I was sitting in the warm sunshine feeling very content. After saying goodbye to a dear friend, it was comforting to observe the daffodils and tulips beginning to bloom, the simple pleasure of seeing bees drink water from the bird feeder and watching a white butterfly fluttering from one flower to another. There was a sense of tranquility in the air that led me to ponder what is the source of this feeling. Was the root of this feeling a result of my experiencing happiness or joy?
I know happiness tends to be externally triggered and is most often a response to other people, things, places, thoughts, and events. Joy, on the other hand, is deeply internal and less connected to externals. For me joy is a more consistent emotion that corresponds to when I am at peace —knowing who I am, with whom I trust and know loyalty, why I am and how I am.
I contemplated what my parents and grandparents might have said about discerning the differences between joy and happiness. I wondered if their answers would mirror mine? What about you? How do you differentiate joy and happiness?
I recall this question posed to a group meeting I was part of a few years ago: “In the past year, what made you happy?” I found the question difficult to answer. That particular time of my life had been difficult and personally challenging. One by one, people began offering positive, happy responses. When it was my turn to answer, I was still struggling with my own sense of the meaning of happiness.
So this was the response I gave, “I don’t know what happiness feels like anymore, but I do know the feeling of joy. Joy is knowing that I am a child of God who loves me unconditionally and holds me up when I have no strength to do so myself.” Then and there, I became aware that when life is difficult, we can be joyful in the Lord when happiness eludes us.
Life, after all, can be difficult and is not always easy. As George Bernard Shaw said: "Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage—it can be full of joy."
Joy is a powerful source of strength in our lives. For the person of faith, it is available to us in every circumstance – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because, as Jesus reminded us, God is the source and giver of joy.