Joy > Happiness

Dancing in the rain

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” 1 Peter 1:8 New International Version (NIV)

Weary from a long car ride, my then nine-year-old daughter lumbered out of the minivan to stretch, while our dog, Dandy, relieved herself. Dandy stretched, wagged her tail, and rubbed against us for petting. Struck by our dog’s enthusiasm despite the long car ride, my child asked, “Why is Dandy always so joyful?”

Similar to my daughter’s observation of our dog, do you know someone who quickly brightens or calms the moods of others? These people readily provide a smile, reassurance, or even just a sense of peace. A quick judgement leads us to assume they do not experience hardships or burdens. But, in getting to know them, we learn this is not the case. Many joy-filled people are seemingly coping very well with difficult situations. My daughter asked me this “joyful question” over a decade ago, and it has stuck with me not only for it’s humor, but for it’s deeper pondering of what joy really is.

Lately, I have been reading the book Think, Act, Be Like Jesus by Randy Frazee. In his book, Frazee writes about what he sees as an interesting difference between happiness and joy. He describes happiness on a scale of high to low; how happy we are is dependent on the number of problems present in our lives. When problems arise, we become unhappy. When problems are solved, we become happier again. “Joy, however, is not dependent on circumstances, and, in fact, ironically, can become strongest when trouble comes”(Frazee 169). Frazee states that, “Joy has more to do with remaining in the presence of Jesus than with avoiding problems and struggles in our lives”(170).

Since reading this book, I’ve been trying to make sense of the difference between happiness and joy in my own life. For example, I am happier when the furnace works, when appointments run on time, and when my family is healthy. Getting some exercise, sleeping well, and eating nutritious food also brings fewer problems, thus making me happier.

Joy takes more work to define and achieve. Even in the midst of dire circumstances like job layoffs, divorce, and serious illnesses some people demonstrate a resolve not to be defeated. They may be experiencing unhappiness, but they remain content in the knowledge that they cannot control their circumstances. Learning how to be satisfied with the status of things by trusting God, brings a reassurance which is naturally passed along to others.

In thinking about this type of trust and reassurance, I am reminded of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Many of us were in awe of the courage and forgiveness displayed by the families of the 20 children and six teachers and administrators killed.

Scarlett Lewis was one of the parents waiting with her older son, JT, at the firehouse where parents gathered for news about their children. In a Women’s Day article titled “‘I Forgave My Son’s Shooter,’” she writes about finding words of comfort for her older son, stating, “I prayed for the words to comfort him. Somehow, they came out: I told him that even if something had happened to Jesse—maybe even the worst and he had been killed—that he was in heaven and that he was fine now. I told him that we were going to be OK too” (Web. 11 December 2013).

Trusting God to help us find the right words and actions when we are hurting is difficult. How do we get to the place where our assurances of God’s promises shine through even when discouraging things are happening? The joy displayed in our character depends upon strengthening our relationship with Christ. Nurturing joy requires planting faith-filled habits, like prayer, into our daily lives, so that turning to God becomes a natural occurrence no matter what is happening.

The more at ease we become with including God in our lives, the more we start to notice the opportunities for joy God has placed in front of us. We find ourselves turning over more of our worry to him and trusting in his plan. We start seeing the good acts around us that work to alleviate the bad. And, we begin searching for ways to join these efforts by serving him.

Life’s hardships still come our way, but we will be more equipped to handle them if we proactively work on building faith-filled habits into our lives. The things in this life that really scare us will not derail the inner contentment we feel. This contentment or joy will be visible to others through a smile, kind words or actions, or simply by offering a calming presence. Those crossing our paths, then, in turn, may pause and wonder, “why so joyful?”

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the many blessings that bring me happiness. Help me as I work to develop faith-filled habits which nurture joy in my character. Teach me to watch for opportunities to build my trust in your plans for my life. Show me how to embrace even negative circumstances as a way to strengthen my faith, remain content, and lead others to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (NIV)

Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV)

Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

Is there someone in your life that exudes joy even in difficult circumstances? Have you ever wondered how their mind-set of faith might bring about such joy? Can you prayerfully begin to model joy for others?