the difference between joy and happiness

Posted by on Jan 4, 2012 in Defining Joy, The Joy Project | 5 comments

the difference between joy and happiness

As we begin, there are some obvious questions that arise at the start of a project such as this.  Relative to The Joy Project in particular, I think some of the logical preliminary questions are as follows:

  • What IS joy?
  • If we are pursuing joy instead of happiness, how, exactly, do joy and happiness differ?
  • Why is the pursuit of joy considered a more biblical endeavor than the pursuit of happiness?
  • How are we going to measure our level/experience of joy over the next 12 months?

While some of these answers will become more clear over the course of our experiment (and will be discussed over the course of this week), I think it’s good to start with examining the difference between “joy” and “happiness.”

Based on yesterday’s research, I’m having difficulty coming up with one concise statement that best defines “JOY” for our purposes here.  This frustration is further compounded by the fact that “happiness” is regularly used in the definition of joy (and vice versa), making comparisons difficult.  But I will try to articulate my current thoughts, nonetheless.

One of the difficulties I’m having in defining joy is the juxtaposition of two seemingly different ideas or feelings.  On one hand, joy is defined, particularly in the original Hebrew and Greek, in a very upbeat manner that implies to me a certain giddy energy: “cheerfulness, glee, delight, pleasure, ecstatic.”  On the other hand, some of the English definitions imply a more subdued, full-in-your-heart kind of feeling: “a deep feeling or condition of happiness, contentment, or satisfaction.”

I don’t know that I believe these to be contradictory—just very difficult to combine together into one clear, concise statement.  But if I had to try, for the purposes of this experiment, I think it might be this:

A deep, intense feeling of delight, pleasure, satisfaction, contentment, and good cheer, not based upon circumstances or outward stimuli but rather upon an inward state or frame of mind cultivated over time and with great intention.


How this differs from “happiness,” I think, might be in these ways:

  • The feeling has a greater intensity;
  • It is “situated” much more deeply in the heart or the spirit, and therefore is less fleeting of an emotion or experience;
  • It is not dependent upon external conditions or stimuli, and therefore can be experienced even in situations that are not inherently pleasurable;
  • Given that it is considered a fruit of the Spirit, Joy might be more accurately described as a state of the heart rather than an actual emotion; and
  • The pursuit of Joy is largely a God-focused quest, whereas the pursuit of happiness appears to be very experience-driven and self-focused.

What do you think?  What might you add or take away from this definition?  In what other ways do Joy and Happiness differ?


  1. I absolutely agree with the statement about Joy being a deep feeling or condition of happiness, contentment, or satisfaction. And your bulletin points of the difference between the two are dead on perfect. I find happiness fleeting and dependent on circumstances, whereas joy is deeper and stable..hopeful. I’ve come to fully realize this in the past year.

    • I’m curious to know, Cindy, what impact, if any, the fitness and running piece had in coming to that realization–you certainly pushed yourself in ways you never have before, nor ever thought possible. Was this something that came out of that? Was found along the way? Or was totally unrelated?

      • It absolutely has had something to do with running. There are so many ways this has impacted my state of joy..spiritually, psychological, mentally, emotionally…it’s mind-boggling. It happened without my even realizing it. I should write out all the ways running has brought joy to my inner being.

  2. Wonderful post! You hit the nail on the head! Such great insights – thanks Lori!

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