Joy vs. Happiness


I have come to really dislike phoniness. I think this especially irks me during this election season when it seems that the candidates wear whatever mask they think it takes to convince someone to cast a vote for them. But even in day-to-day life, phoniness bothers me, makes me feel unsettled. I have come to find that my closest friendships are with people who aren’t afraid to tell it to me straight and be genuine with their feelings. Those friends continue to inspire me to be the same way. After all, most people’s lives are not all roses and sunshine, so chances are, you can relate or support one another through whatever hardship you’re experiencing.

For many years I could not understand this verse from James 1. Joy when you encounter various trials? I used to think that meant that I should put on a smile and will myself to be happy when tough things happen. But can you imagine if that were actually what this verse meant? People smiling and acting happy while they bury a loved one, watch their marriage fall apart, lose their job, or any other myriad of heartaches that could happen. No, that would be insanity. Grief is not meant to be hidden or never experienced. A facade of happiness is not the same thing as experiencing joy.

In other words, joy does not equal happiness.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

I think it’s safe to say that Jesus did not feel happy while enduring the torture of a death by crucifixion. I would imagine that He felt agony and grief, but He was joyfully obeying God the Father’s will.

Trusting God during hard times does not mean you have to act happy. Being joyful is a choice, or a state of mind, whereas happiness is a feeling.

Likewise, sadness is a feeling. And it’s okay to feel sad and to grieve when something painful happens. Jesus experienced grief when Lazarus died (John 11:35). But the key is to not let feelings dictate your attitude or state of mind and to not doubt God’s love for you or His goodness. You can be joyful while simultaneously feeling sad.

Even if you can’t understand why something painful has happened or you feel angry (another feeling), you are still capable through God’s grace to trust Him. I encourage you to not try to hide your feelings of sadness or convince yourself that it’s wrong to feel sad when something painful happens (don’t be that person who always answers “How are you?” with “Great!” if it’s not really true). Allow yourself to feel sad for a time, but trust that God is using the experience for good somehow.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13


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