A dictionary definition of happiness is “a state of well-being, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” The definition of the word “rejoice,” from which our word “joy” comes, is “to feel great delight, to welcome or to be glad.” Depending on the translation, the Bible uses the words “happy” and “happiness” about 30 times, while “joy” and “rejoice” appear over 300 times. If we look at some verses it will help us understand why joy is different from happiness.
Genesis 30:1-13 tells the story of two sisters, Rachel and Leah, and their rivalry over their husband, Jacob. Each woman tries to have more male children in order to please him, even using their handmaidens to conceive more offspring. Leah’s handmaiden, Zilpah, bore Jacob a second son, and verse 13 says, “Then Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For women have called me happy.’ So she named him Asher.” Thus the word “happy” comes from the Hebrew root word ashar and means “to set right or be blessed.” We also find the word “happiness” in Deuteronomy 24:5, which says, “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” The word “joy” comes from the Greek root word chara and means “to be exceedingly glad.” James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.”
How could we ever consider going through difficulties and trials a reason to feel joy? James 1:3-4 gives us a clue when it says, “Knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The deep, abiding joy comes as we persevere through trials, with God’s help, and our faith matures and is strengthened. So happiness tends to be fleeting and depends upon temporal factors like circumstances or other people. Joy, on the other hand, is true contentment that comes from internal factors like our faith in the Lord. True joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances.
The book of Philippians is a great study in the difference between joy and happiness. Written by the Apostle Paul while imprisoned in Rome, this book uses the words “joy,” “rejoice,” and “joyful” 16 times and teaches us how to have true contentment in Jesus Christ, despite our circumstances. In chains and aware that his life was coming to an end, Paul talks about his faith and trust in Christ and how it had changed his whole perspective on suffering. In Philippians 1:12-24, Paul says that because of his two-year imprisonment (Acts 28:30), the whole Roman guard heard the gospel from him, and it had even spread throughout all of Rome. In verse 18 Paul says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul goes on to encourage others to have peace knowing that God strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) and “supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
So the Bible teaches that happiness is fleeting because it often depends on things outside of ourselves, but true joy is eternal because it is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ, which is itself an everlasting source of joy.