Difference Between Joy and Happiness

Posted: April 28, 2008 in Faith, Spirituality

I meet weekly on Sunday nights with a group of high schoolers and adults in what we call Growth Groups.  This semester we have been studying and thinking through the Old Testament book of Job.  Last night we had an amazing discussion about the difference between joy and happiness.

Frequently these two words are used as one and the same.  While they do share some characteristics, they are actually different.  Happiness is an emotion usually directly related to circumstances that are currently happening.  So when the circumstances are good and going our way, we feel happy.  On the other hand, when things break, get old, disappoint, when we do not get what we want, or when things do not go our way, we feel sad and are not happy.  

One exercise we went through to help us get this concept was to write down specific things that make us happy.  Here was my list in no particular order:

  • Seeing things set to record on my TIVO.  Not things recorded, but things scheduled to record.
  • Watching Joba Chamberlain pitch.
  • Pushing through a hard rep (known as a wall) while working out.
  • Tickling Heather and hearing her laugh.
  • Cuddling with our dogs.
  • Listening to 90s music.
  • Getting comments on my blog.
  • Drinking a perfectly blended Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino.
  • Having a secret $100 in my wallet (very rarely happens).
  • Putting on jogging pants & a soft tshirt, then taking a nap on a cold, rainy day.
  • Hearing The Office theme song.

If I had more time to think, I could have filled up pages of specific things that bring me happiness.  You could too.  Think about all the things in this world that makes you happy.  It could be small things or big things.  Anything from a good cheeseburger to when a baby wraps their tiny hang around your finger.  All these are temporary and bring temporary emotional happiness.  

Joy is something entirely different from happiness.  Joy, in the Biblical context, is not an emotion.  Joy is attitude of the heart.  It is not necessarily based on something positive happening.  Joy is something that lasts; happiness is something that is temporary.  When happiness fades away, joy remains.  Joy is something that is bigger than you and I and our current circumstances.  Joy brings us peace in the middle of a storm.  Joy is something that God deposits into us through the Holy Spirit.  The enemy tries everything in his power to steal your joy because it is that important.  On the other hand, the enemy will tempt you with things that will temporarily give you happiness but at the same time drift you away from God.  

There is a big difference between joy and happiness.  Happiness is an emotion and temporary; joy is an attitude of the heart.  Hold on tight to your joy.  


Habakkuk 3:17-18, James 1:2, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, John 16:19-24, Galatians 5:22, Hebrews 12:2, and much more (joy is mentioned 242 times in the Bible).

  1. Teresa says:

    Good morning Brian. What to thank you for that insight. There is a big difference between happines and joy, and most people would want to be happy for the time being then to have a life time of joy. I hope the young adults will learn the difference between the two soon, so that way they will have more joy their lives.
    Psalms 16:11 You have made known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
    That should be the what the young adults need to set their sight on..wanting to be at the right hand of God and having Him giving them eternal joy and happiness.

  2. JPD says:

    I was there Sunday night when you mentioned your list. I am still processing the whole “tickle your wife” and “cuddle with the dogs”. This is very interesting to me…

    • bacot26 says:

      I thank that happiness and joy are impossible to seperate, what is the expression of a joyful person? Happiness. And happy person has joy. I have never seen a happy unjoyful person or joyful unhappy person. I think what is seperate is character and the expression of situations, being unhappy at a certain moment does not make you and unhappy person and not expressing joy at times does not mean u are not joyful are have joy. I think we confussion the expression of a situation with the character the person.

  3. Heather says:

    Amen JP

  4. briancromer says:

    I specifically said that “If I had more time to think, I could have filled up pages of specific things that bring me happiness.” There are way more things, which might include cuddling with my wife and also tickling the dogs.

  5. Sean White says:

    Good thoughs on that Brian. I actually taught a class about this on Sunday morning. We are doing a Fruits of the Spirit type thing. During my preparation, I came across a good analogy for happiness and joy. It goes like this: Happiness is like a thermometer that changes based the environment around it. Joy is a thermostat that we can learn to set and will effect the enviroment around it. Just thought I would share that. I enjoy reading your blog by the way.

    • Ashlyn says:

      Thanks for that analogy! I am preparing for a devotion on joy and happiness and it will totally help explain the point. Praise God!

      • J says:

        Yeah – just doing some prep for a QT on joy at a youth camp and this has been a great help – thanks (also a personal thinking point!)

  6. briancromer says:

    Sean – that is a great analogy for the difference between joy and happiness. I definitely will start using that. Sometimes I think that I think in analogy, so that makes perfect sense. Thanks for reading. I greatly appreciate it.

  7. Sarah says:

    Job was not privy to the war going on for his spirit in the heavenlies…. That is what has been discussed in our women’s group. Do you think it would have made a difference somehow if he did?
    Though he was blameless, he still dwelled on what made him happy (Job 7:7, I think) for a season. It was his joy that overcame… God wants us to be happy, but he does want us to find it in Him. (Ecc. 2:25-26) I think our lists, when seen through His eyes, makes an impact on our joy. Job’s list, was taken away, so he might “zero in” on what joy really was. His list was more than restored to him…
    Rambling… Sorry.

  8. Rev Williams says:

    I concur, good stuff. I wrote a chapter in my new book on Joy vs happiness. The Joy of the Lord is my strength. My wife and kids can make me happy, but GOD gives me my Joy. My job and money makes me happy, GOD provides ALL of my needs, therefore my Joy is wrapped up, tied up and tangled up in His Joy.
    My book is entitiled ECHOES of Words of Encouragement. Check it out at http://www.uwillread.com


  9. George says:

    In our lives we struggle to rationalize the irrational . . . as meer humans . . . we use our power of thought . . . to analyze what is happening to us and come to an objective conclusion based on subjective data. Ah, the sum or these analytical exercises is the melding of two concepts of human response . . . Happy verses Joy . . . Happy is the beloved well spring flower of life . . . Joy the nutrament of plant that produces the flower. Seek the joy . . . for it is a conscious thing . . . from the nurtament of joy . . . comes the happy.

  10. tunde Ebidero says:

    thanx alot i ve been seeking a deeper understanding of the diffrence between joy and happiness now i ve through your help thank you

  11. Randy Morris says:

    I do children’s ministry with Gospel magic and story telling. I havea program coming up in which I was going to use the theme “What makes us happy”. I’ve been struggling with it, but finding this site opened up a whole new avenue of aproach. Thanks and God bless.

  12. Stan says:

    Interesting subject we too have been discussing in our small group. A friend described the difference between joy and happiness this way: ” Joy is getting to go out on the golf course regularly, happiness is a great shot!”

  13. Matthew says:

    I don’t agree with this distinction. Happiness isn’t just an emotion. ‘Makarios’ – ‘happy’ – also means ‘blessed’. Happy is the man whose sins are forgiven, against whom the Lord does not count iniquity. Happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly. Etc.

    Take a look at this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy

    It redirects here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness

    I think, rather than imposing your own framework on the text first, you should take a hard look at why the Bible uses joy and happiness interchangeably – perhaps it’s because they’re the same.

    • briancromer says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. We are not on the same page here, Matthew. I am not talking about blessed here. Also, careful about using wikipedia. I can write on wikipedia that my dog can fly (she can’t). Keep checking out the blog.

      Plus, the English language is lacking in certain areas of description. For example, in the same breath I can say I love McDonalds french fries and that I love my wife. Now I’m using the same words interchangeably but are they meaning the same thing? Nope.

  14. Shenna says:

    Yes and Amen!! I love this. Something I just haven’t been able to put into words. I teach a class of 5,6, and 7 year olds at church and I am teaching them the fruit of the spirit. I taught them last week on peace and we walked in peace we made foot prints and practiced walking in peace. The week before we talked about patience and we made a turtle and talked about being slow to anger. This week I am gonna talk about joy and don’t want them to get happiness mixed up with joy. This really helped to clairify…. Thanx Shenna

  15. Ashley says:


    While at work and preparing for my Yoga class this a.m., I stumbled upon your ‘Top 10 P90X Yoga Poses.’ I actually had planned on using some of the P90 dude’s poses for my class but realized I forgot to bring in the DVD to help plan my class. Anyway, like I said, I stumbled upon your blog after googling ‘P90X Yoga’ and saw you posted some pics…they totally made my day. You seem like a really goofy and cool guy, and well, you made my day with your pictures, so THANK YOU! I work third shift and sometimes it’s hard to get a ‘pick me up’ at this hour in the am., so, thanks again!

    Take care and God bless,


  16. Marina says:

    This is absolutely awesome! I’m leading a small group of the younger members of my youth group in a study of James. This is exactly what I needed to tell to them!

  17. Mike says:

    Hi Brian,
    I stumbled across your blog during my morning gospel study on happiness and joy. I enjoyed your comments and those of your readers. I’ve been studying this subject for some time and I agree with your assessment of the difference between joy and happiness. However as a matter of semantics I prefer to call the happiness you describe as pleasure. It provides a better anchor for me to understand the difference. In the following quote from a former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints (Mormons) leader he uses the word happiness in the same way you describe joy. You could replace his definition of happiness with your definition of joy. In this case the words are interchangable.

    “Happiness includes all that is really desirable and of true worth in pleasure, and much beside. Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but gilded brass. … Happiness is as the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines with its own inimitable luster; pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished. … Happiness leaves no bad after-taste, it is followed by no depressing reaction; it calls for no repentance, brings no regret, entails no remorse; pleasure too often makes necessary repentance, contrition, and suffering; and, if indulged to the extreme, it brings degradation and destruction.” James E. Talmage 1862-1933

  18. I really enjoyed reading the difference between joy and happiness. I’m preparing to do a 5minutes presentation on joy. It really enlightened me alot thanks.

    • v Sundararaman says:

      Nice follow up. I am a faculty in our training college where sessions include Self awareness. May I have an insight into your proposed presentation on Joy & happiness. My audience are maintenance and messenger staff – the lowest level iln our organisation. Can I have a soft copy please.



  19. Sam says:

    “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, NKJV).

    Joy and happiness are not necessarily the same thing. Happiness is the result of favorable circumstances; joy, in contrast, is the result of being–as in being connected to Jesus, the True Vine.
    In Psalm 4:7, joy and happiness are contrasted: “You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine” (NLT). The “greater joy” comes from knowing and trusting God; happiness is a result of pleasant circumstances, such as an abundant harvest. Inward joy is steady as long as we trust God; happiness is as unpredictable as a harvest. Inward joy defeats discouragement; happiness covers it up. Inward joy is lasting; happiness is temporary.
    Joy is a delight in life that runs deeper than pain or pleasure. This type of joy stems from an awareness of God’s presence in one’s life, allowing us to rise above circumstances and focus on the goodness and love of God. At the core of Christian joy is the fact that God has acted and is acting to save those who trust in Him.

  20. Joseph Abia says:

    Thanks very much, i was preparing a message with the theme; joy when i see these explanation, am encourage.

  21. Brent Lockwood says:

    Very good insight. Thanks.

  22. francesca says:

    it was just a thought that came to my mind on finding out the difference between the two. that’s when i came across your blog. My lecturer too described joy as intrinsic and happiness as extrinsic. He gave an example of Mother Theresa of Calcutta as the best example of a person with that joy. Happy are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. thanks for the highlights.

  23. Arinze says:

    Thank you for that clarifiation. I can now differenciate between the two.

  24. jon says:

    this article is kinda old but for me it’s new and I love it. check the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl. I think that is the ultimate verse to describe joy God’s perspective:

    Matthew 13:44-46 (New International Version)

    The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
    44″The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
    45″Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

  25. Ann says:

    I think the difference between happiness and joy is the source. Happiness springs up from all the fun, feel-good stuff we have and experience….joy comes from God…a never-ending, deep flowing, never changing flow of love and truth. Happiness is an emotional response. Joy is a state of being.

  26. gabriel smit says:

    as you say, happiness is what makes you feel good – it is an extremely selfish experience and as soon as circumstances change, it vanishes. for instance killing jews seems to have made hitler happy, as soon as it was his turn to die we must surmise he did not appreciate it very much, his happiness was gone. i use this extreme example because one man’s happiness can be the other man’s sorrow. which begs the question whether ‘universal’ happiness is not akin to what we refer to as morality… i drift…
    Jesus Christ is joy. He is our hope and God’s ONLY guarantee of salvation and being in His presence forever – in other words if you just have that fuzzy feeling about God which you think is joy and it is not in Christ, it still is only happiness and is guaranteed to let you down – forever…
    God bless in Christ

  27. Andre Indalecio says:

    I believe these two words joy and happiness make a good distinction on paper but I see little evidence of the distinction in the real world. I am always glad to meet a happy person for the first time and if I get to know them long enough they almost inevitably continue to be that same happy person. Some people are happier than others and no amount a conscious effort towards joy will bring an unhappy person to the same plane of happiness. I don’t think happy people would make a distinction and I don’t think depressed people would make a distinction. Both want happiness. One has attained it, the other hasn’t. I agree with your distinction, but to me if I meet a genuinely happy person or a joyful person, they are to me one and the same. I guess I should say another reason that the two words are sort of the same is the idea of inward happiness versus outward happiness. Inward happiness and joy convey the same meaning to me.

  28. Paul Taylor says:

    I think Pleasure vs. Happiness is a better way to describe this.

    ‘Pleasure’ suggests something which is more temporary and related to external circumstances (e.g. consumerism, sex, drugs, etc). ‘Happiness’ is something we all know we want, I never really use the word ‘Joy’ it sounds like a middle aged lady’s name! Ultimately it’s just semantics but I reckon these semantics put the point across in a way that is easier to understand.

    PS: My favorite quotes from your list “Seeing things set to record on my TIVO.  Not things recorded, but things scheduled to record.
    Pushing through a hard rep (known as a wall) while working out.
    Drinking a perfectly blended Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino.
    Putting on jogging pants & a soft tshirt, then taking a nap on a cold, rainy day.”

  29. Beckley Jophress says:

    Wanted to write an article on “The Joy of the Lord” for our weekly “Family Altar”. I thank God for your article ‘JOY VS HAPPINESS’. Thank you and may the good Lord continue to pour out His joy into thy heart.

  30. Landon Little says:

    Used this as part of my lesson tonight to show how joy and happiness are different. Thanks for your insight. May God continue to bless you.

  31. jessica bayaban says:

    Now i know the differences between joy and happiness” that joy is eternal and happiness is temporary”

  32. Ann says:


    I too get happy when i find a secret $100 note in my purse. But to be honest I hide it myself when i have lots of cash knowing that in broke times i might surprise myself with it. Silly, but it works for me.. didn’t think any1 else ever felt this. I feel less weird. thanks.

    About the topic at hand, it is very true. I also first experienced joy when i accepted God into my life. I could say its floating on a cloud at all times, with the assurance that all is well, even when times are hard.

    Thanks. Good article

  33. Richard Yeboah says:

    Thank you very much for such a wonderful teaching.May God bless you with more wisdom and understanding.

  34. Lauren says:

    Great article on the difference of Joy and Happiness. Because “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” I’d rather have joy than happiness. I publish a newsletter at my church and September’s theme is Joy. Love, love, loved Sean White’s analogy, plan on using it (and attributing him, of course) in the newsletter. Kirk Franklin says something awesome at the end of his song “I Smile”, he says: “I don’t want to be happy, because that means I have to have something happening. I’d rather have joy, because no one can take it from you.” Awesome. Thanks!

  35. A J G says:

    My sister is going through some rough patches and this was PERFECT for me to share with her. THANK YOU!

  36. thank you Brian, now i know how to explain “joy” and “happiness” to my girls at my dormitory. :D

  37. Sharla says:

    Over 3 years later and your blog of Joy vs Happiness is still a hit, and helping many people! I am one of those people. I would really like to thank you and your readers for the blog and the comments. I recently answered the call to do youth ministry and as a stepping stone toward my new life’s ambition my pastor is allowing me to give a sermon. With that said, this is the topic I chose, and you and your readers have given me some excellent insight! Thanks so much and keep up the amazing work! God Bless!

  38. hokeypete says:

    Really enjoyed this post! I’ve heard countless sermons saying the same thing, that joy is permanent and happiness is temporary. I believe this. Now, my question ties into the Beattitudes of Jesus. He said, “Blessed are the….” That word, “blessed,” is “makarios” in Greek, which is “happy.” Along the lines of how you define happiness, the moment-by-moment happenstances that come our way can cause us to feel encouraged, pleased, pleasantly surprised, etc. So, since Jesus referred to this spiritual axioms (the Beattitudes) in terms of happiness, we shouldn’t discount the value of happiness. BUT I think it’s so important to let our joy, the “attitude of our hearts” be the lens through which we look at our happiness. I think the two things – joy and happiness – are not on opposite ends of the spectrum, but are designed to feed into each other.

    I’m looking forward to checking more of your posts, my friend! God bless!

  39. Real joy, can only be found in JESUS. :D

  40. A couple more differences: Happy comes from the world, and Joy comes from God; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Happy always costs you something, but joy is a free gift. Jesus never told anyone to be happy; He told them to have joy. I’ve written extensively on the difference between the two on my website pastorjerrylive.org, and the word “happy” also has an interesting origin.

  41. bartosik says:

    I thought it was interesting that you say….”Joy, in the Biblical context, is not an emotion.” but then just a couple sentences later give it an emotion….”Joy brings us peace in the middle of a storm.”

    I don’t think joy=peace as an emotional outlet. peace is peace.

    When I feel gratitude I may cry,when I am afraid I may tremble. When I am comforted I feel safe and at peace.

    Emotions do not run the train, but to have gratitude,fear etc are not optional.
    We are Commanded to have joy (phil 4:4)

    Physical sensations aren’t essential…but…
    there does seem to be a connection between the feelings we feel in our soul and the sensations or emotions of our bodies.

    We give emotions to peace, fear, gratitude, hope, and grief.

    There seems to be an emotion attached to joy in Matthew 13:44, Ps 37:4….why do you want to take the emotion out of joy and so adamantly potentially leading others to feel content that they don’t feel any happiness?

    It feels like your taking the joy out of joy.

    My hope is that Christians are the happiest people in the world because we have found the ONLY lasting, ultimate, true being that can bring eternal satisfaction and happiness.

    We have joy and that joy could get emotionally expressed in happiness. Not essential, but your happiness can become a thermometer or indicator of how much joy you truly have and how much you are truly treasuring Christ above everything else in this world.

    CS Lewis says, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us,like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far to easily pleased.” (weight of glory, pg1 )


    • Anonymous says:

      I love how you explained this. I feel that Christians too often get the idea that you can’t have joy in Christ and be happy at the same time. Our joy in Christ does bring us happiness! Now at all times no, of course not. Glorifying God with our lives like we are created to do gives us eternal joy and does bring us happiness as well. That is something that we can’t miss.

  42. Katerina says:

    Googled my way here. Very good explanation. Thank you.

  43. bbrace13 says:

    I agree with bartosiks point about joy being expressed through happiness; I think the point is that where happiness may depart when our circumstances sour, joy remains to see us through tough times. Joy does not ignore the reality of our circumstances, like an ostrich hiding in the sand; it simply says our disposition won’t be altered because of them. Those observing our life should see a consistency in our demeanor, a “happiness” that isn’t dependent on things going our way. I think that’s a sign of a mature believer.

    Enjoy reading everyone else’s comments; this was a good article.

  44. London says:

    Just want to say this was VERY helpful, and I am using this tomorrow in my Christian fellowship club at school.

  45. Colleen says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry, Brian, ( I found it by googling.) While seeking to find the difference between happiness and joy, I also came across a very powerful piece written by someone in 1999, named Anne Robinson. I have never heard of her before, but she explains the difference very well, with practical examples. I hope you all take the time to read this!

  46. This article is just what I was looking for. I always wondered what the difference between the two were, and after the crappy weekend I had, I learned what joy truly is. I will be writing a post on joy and happiness and would to use this article as a link. Thanks so much

  47. MR says:

    Just want to ask for your permition to use your definition of joy vs happiness. I´m talking to a group of 180 Panamenian Ladies from a very poor area that really need to find Jesus.
    God bless you.

  48. Hi Brian,

    Stumbled-upon your blog and saw this article. I’ve been trying to grow my faith in the past year and came across the book of Job briefly during bible study. I haven’t read it because it’s a tough read but thank you for summarising the main lesson. Now I feel like I need to read it for some reason and you’re prompting me to explore it.
    Thanks for the nudge!

  49. James Melbin says:

    Nice post

  50. Naa Amorkor says:

    Thanks a lot Brian for ur blog n evryone dat commented, especially dat of Sam. Had bin thinking abt this after a fren shared it with me, n hv bin enlightened evn more today when it kept pressin me to google. Ma faith is further deeply rooted! Glory!

  51. Oluwakemi Bolaji, Oluwatoye says:

    This is mind blowing. Very brief and exact. Gods great Joy. Hmmm. No wonder the devil tries to steal our joy always. I love u Lord.

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