joy vs. happiness

Written by Jamaal Bell

Jamaal is a MDiv and Clinical Counseling student at Ashland Theological Seminary. The editor of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity's blog He served four years in the U.S. Navy from 1999-2003. He earned his Bachelor's Degree in journalism and public relations at Ball State University. Jamaal's writing interests are devotionals, theology, and social justice. He also loves to do video devotionals targeted to teens, however, applicable to anyone.

November 17, 2011

Verses like these use to trouble me:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” — James 1:2 (NIV)

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” — 1 Peter 1:6 (NIV)

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;” — Romans 5:3 (NIV)

Rejoice in suffering?  Consider it pure joy when we face trials? My heart says, “Yes Jesus! Praise the Lord!” But my mind says, “Whatever dude.” When I face difficult trials the emotions that surface are hurt, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Rarely did joy surface.

Usually during trials happiness doesn’t enter often, and when it does it is usually an emotion that is short-lived.  Quickly, the hurt, anxiety, anger, or sadness returns and engulf my entire being.

The way my eyebrows crunch in communicates a lack of joy.  My thinking and actions becomes more self-centered from the lack of joy because I’m either attempting to self-heal or I sit and wait and expect God to place priority on my healing.

How in the world am I supposed to be happy when I face trials like a death in the family, a loss of a job, a failing grade in class or loss of a relationship?  In these moments, life sucks.

Where’s this joy God the father promises? (Isaiah 55:12)

What is this joy that Job had? (Job 33:26)

Hmmm…  I wonder if we use happiness and joy interchangeably? After doing a word study on how joy is used biblically, I realize that joy is not just an emotional reaction or an extreme ecstatic emotional reaction; it is a quality.  It is a quality given to us by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). Therefore it shouldn’t be used interchangeably with happiness; these terms are different.

Happiness is a reactive emotion. Something must trigger us to experience the emotion of happiness.  A fellow blogger, Brian Cromer said, “Happiness is an emotion usually directly related to circumstances that are currently happening.” So when things or going our way or when awesome things happen to us we react in happiness.

Joy is an attitude of the heart and is a gift that derives from God’s love (Isa 9:3, Acts 13:52; 14:15-17). As in all of God’s gifts, joy can be interrupted by sin. Therefore, we are called to share in the promise of joy by walking with Jesus daily.  We must expand and rejoice in our knowledge of Him (1 Thes. 5:16; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:8).

Where happiness is simply an emotion; joy is an attitude of the heart that derives from love and the knowledge of God. So it makes sense why we can experience joy in the midst of suffering. Suffering and affliction are ultimately temporal but God’s providence is eternal.

How does God’s people know joy?

Notice that God’s deliverance, goodness, compassion, presence, salvation, generosity and favor are everlasting.  So we can continue to be joyful if we trust in the everlasting promise of God and engage in work for the kingdom.

Therefore, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, Amen.


  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    You make a good point in this post–one I need to be reminded of often.

  2. Ayomide Akinkugbe

    I love something about how this was written! Very sincere and honest. Thanks Jamaal 🙂

    • Jamaal Bell

      Thank you it was from an honest and repentful heart.

  3. Iris Roubique

    I have learned this in so many ways and in so many times.  God first showed it to me in the midst of my 21 year old sons’ funeral when the woman who was with him just moments after death came to me to tell me she held my still warm sons body and cried out to Jesus and got a firm conviction that she knew where my son was. (A woman that did not know me or my family in anyway).  This was God’s comfort, joy and peace at a time where I thought there could be none.

    He also came alongside when my family lost everything in hurricane Ike due to stormsurge flooding, by friends who so generously and without question replaced basic necessities for us.  This at a time that I lost so many heirlooms from grandmother and great-grandmother.

    I do count it joy when hard things come into my life as I have learned to look for God’s mercy and grace, even though it may not be in the first moments, to come into my life.

    As it has been said – the diamond shines brightest against the black cloth – so God’s faithfulness, mercy, and peace shine brightest against the backdrop of pain.

  4. Sharon R Hoover

    I love your statement that “joy is an attitude of the heart and a gift that derives from God’s love”! So profound. I hear so many parents speak of their children:”I just want them to be happy.” Ohhh…but… the happiness emotion comes and goes. We do not want our children to base their decisions on the whims of the latest feelings. I look forward to sharing your post!! Thank you!


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joy vs. happiness

by Jamaal Bell time to read: 3 min