Psalm 43:4 | Proverbs 16:20 | Psalm 28:7

Joy, happiness… What’s the difference?

The United States Declaration of Independence states that all people have a God-given right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” What does that even mean–the pursuit of Happiness?

It means you can chase after whatever you think will make you happy. The question is: if you catch what you’ve chased, will it make you happy? And if it does, for how long?

As Miriam states in this episode, something has to happen for you to be happy. But joy comes from the Lord.

There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy.

Psalm 43:4 NLT

For example… You wake up early and spring out of bed, ready for the big camping trip. As you toss your sleeping bag and backpack in the trunk, you whistle happily because the sun is shining, yet the air is still cool. Your friends share your enthusiasm, telling each other jokes as you pitch your tents. 

That’s happiness: you planned a camping trip, and your friends and the weather cooperated. You are content because of your circumstances–happy.

But let’s say the weather takes a turn during that first night, and the rain sets in. You’re dreaming of splashing in puddles, and when you wake up, it’s true. Only, the puddles are in your tent. The more you try to find a dry spot, the wetter you become. When dawn arrives, it looks like you set up camp in a bowl of chocolate milk. You’ve never seen this much mud.

You may not be happy with the situation, but you can still be joyful.

Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.

Proverbs 16:20 NLT

How? By trusting God. Who knows what good things he is cooking up for you? Maybe after surviving a night like this together, the bond between you and your friends will be stronger than ever. Maybe you can share the Hope you have with one of them!

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Psalm 28:7 NLT

In some ways, joy and happiness are not all that different. They both come from acknowledging favorable circumstances. The difference is that joy comes from favorable spiritual circumstances–that God loves you so much he paid the price for your freedom with his son Jesus.

When you remember that, it doesn’t matter how much rain falls. You’ve got joy–God-given happiness that you don’t even have to chase. 

Questions for Group Discussion

  • Can you think of a time when your circumstances were favorable, but you were not happy? Or vice versa? Why was that so? What does this say about joy and/or happiness?
  • How might you explain the difference between joy and happiness? 

Challenge: The Story Goes

True stories are great, but this doesn’t have to be one of them…

Remember the story of the wet camping trip? We made that up. Now it’s your turn. Think of a situation in which you might be joyful, though not happy. OR… the opposite: happy, though not joyful.

  • This story is completely fictional. Unless you have a great one that is true!
  • Imagine the story, and fill in plenty of details.
  • Keep your story moving… Once you make a point, move on to the next one.
  • Be creative! Your story does not have to be limited to being plausible. Have some fun!