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Joy Versus Happiness - The Crosswalk Devotional - April 28

The Crosswalk Devotional

The Difference Between Joy and Happiness  
By Whitney Hopler

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” – Psalm 16:11 NIV

I’d planned a full day of fun activities for our family to enjoy together on Saturday. But on Friday night, everyone canceled, and my plans fell through. I understood their reasons: They were tired and wanted to sleep in, the weather forecast changed, and they needed to catch up on chores and errands. Still, I was unhappy the next morning when I woke up to an empty day I’d worked hard to plan. I thought about all the activities that were supposed to make this day happy for all of us. Going out together would have been much better than being stuck at home. Since I had extra time that morning, I decided to use it to pray and meditate. That unrushed time helped me pay closer attention to God’s presence with me. As I talked with God, I felt the embrace of his love. God met me when I was in the middle of my unhappiness. He didn’t magically change my circumstances, my fun plans remained canceled. God did something even better: He filled me with joy in his presence.

People sometimes use the words happiness and joy interchangeably. But they’re not the same concepts. Happiness is an emotion we can feel only in good circumstances. In contrast, joy is a strength we feel whenever we pay attention to God’s loving presence with us. Our happiness can slip away as soon as something goes wrong for us. But we can experience joy in every type of circumstance because God is always with us. God tells us in Genesis 28:15 NIV: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…”. In both good and bad circumstances, God is constantly with us. There is nowhere we can go where God is not with us. Psalm 139:7-10 NIV describes that reality in a moving way: 

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” 

Matthew 1:23 NIV tells us that Jesus is “Immanuel,” a name that means, “God with us”. That’s good news! We have access to God in every situation – whether we’re feeling happy or not. We can connect with God’s love and let Him fill our souls with joy, no matter what type of circumstances we’re facing. The wonder of God’s presence is available to us even when life feels boring, stressful, or sad. We will always have to deal with circumstances that make us feel unhappy in this fallen world, but Jesus is with us as we go through every situation. He helps us overcome our challenges. Jesus promises in John 16:33 NIV: “… In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We don’t have to let pockets of unhappiness discourage us. Spending time with God when we feel unhappy allows His loving presence to encourage and give us hope. Happiness is a temporary feeling, while joy is a lasting strength that can be cultivated. Joy is a “fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22-23 NIV. We can ask the Holy Spirit to develop more joy in our lives. We experience more joy when we focus on time spent communicating with God’s Spirit. We won’t always be happy. But we always have access to joy because God is always with us! 

Intersecting Faith and Life:
As you reflect on the differences between joy and happiness, consider these questions: 

  • What is one situation that you feel unhappy about right now? How can you find joy from God’s presence with you in the middle of it?
  • No matter what circumstances you face on any given day, you can still cultivate joy. What is one way you would like to work with the Holy Spirit to choose joy daily?

Further Reading:

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Daniel de la Hoz

headshot of author Whitney HoplerWhitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on X/Twitter and on Facebook

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