What is the difference between happiness and joy?

Happiness and joy may sound like the same thing, but they are vastly different. One is outward focused, fleeting and self-centric, while the other is eternally focused and selfless. Have you ever met that one person who no matter what life throws at her, she is at peace? She is joyful in all situations, even the unhappy ones. Why is this?


The pursuit of happiness is every American’s dream. It’s written into our Declaration of Independence as a right that every human is due and that the government must strive to protect. The problem is that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is derived from external forces. It is based on other people, relationships, material things, events and thoughts. It naturally fits that the government would seek to protect this pursuit as the government is concerned with the external trappings that make up our lives. 

Happiness can not be sustained. It is a momentary feeling. And still, we chase. The pursuit can leave us feeling empty. Having caught a feeling, we lose it, and the chase begins again. 


Joy lasts. It is a state of contentment and peace that does not leave us even when things get hard. Instead of chasing a feeling, joy is a choice. We experience joy when we decide to trust God in all circumstances. 

Joy does not mean we do not experience happiness, sadness, pain and grief. While happiness only has room for one feeling, joy has room for a multitude of feelings. One can experience joy in the middle of grief, during heartache and while in pain. The grief that comes at the deathbed of a loved one can also be filled with the joy of knowing this goodbye is not the end. The fear and pain of rejection, when fired from a job or ending a relationship, can also bring with it joy, knowing that God will see you through any obstacle. 

Governments can not strive to protect one’s joy; they can only seek to better the outer trappings of a person’s life. True joy does not come from guarding what is rightfully mine; it comes from being selfless and trusting God to see you through.