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We use the words happiness and joy interchangeably, but they are distinctly different. The Bible encourages us to seek joy in our lives. Not understanding the difference, the pursuit of happiness can lead to sorrow.

Happiness vs. joy

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

–Romans 15:13

The Bible makes a clear distinction between happiness and joy.

Happiness is more of a temporary feeling, a fleeting thing. The Bible uses the word joy, and verses using the word happiness are few. Consider this example:

“My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.”

– Lamentations 3:17

This perfectly demonstrates the limited nature of happiness.

Joy is different. Joy denotes not only lasting contentment but fulfillment and hope. The Bible also uses the word rejoice interchangeably with joy.

Solomon, known for his wisdom, wrote this of joy:

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live.”

–Ecclesiastes 3:12

Solomon is expressing a moral sense that when we do good, that is, acting rightly, it is conducive to joy and true happiness. Other verses in this chapter express putting trust in God and that humankind should find satisfaction in the simple basics of life.

How the pursuit of happiness robs us of joy

“also, that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”

–Ecclesiastes 3:13

Many observers have noted a change in America following World War II. Perhaps it was the hardship, loss, and sacrifice that happened during the war years, but the United States was in a celebratory mood, one that has lingered to the present day. A society focused on fun, leisure, and the instant gratification of every whim. Some say it has led to those wanting the rewards without the work and unrealistic expectations. In short, a constant pursuit of happiness and a continuous need for more that is difficult to fulfill.

Joy often comes in trying times

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”

–James 1:2

Ironically, the deep satisfaction we long for, that the fleeting moments of happiness fail to satiate, often comes through trying circumstances.

The late Billy Graham wrote: “It is the contentment that fills the soul in the midst of distressing circumstances and the most adverse environment.”

The Bible tells us:

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

–Romans 12:12

Lasting joy

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

–Galatians 5:22

Joy is a feeling that challenges or failures can’t diminish. When we possess gratitude and humility, external forces do not affect our internal joy. It is an inward peace that is unaffected by circumstances.

Faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in His Holy Spirit, develops this type of joy. It is impervious, resilient, and long-lasting, if not everlasting.

It is an inner spirit that is developed and strengthened by reading the words of the Bible.