"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." ~ Angel of the Lord to the Shepherds. Luke 2:10-11.
Joy is different from happiness. Being happy is related to our circumstances. It is related to our "happenings." If good things are happening, I'm generally happy. If bad things are happening, I'm not. Many of us ride up and down on waves of emotions caused by the current and winds of the various happenings in our lives. One day we're up. One day we're down. People ask us what's wrong and we tell them about so-and-so or this-and-that. Or, we're walking on air because we got that promotion or made that sale or something great happened with our children or someone likes us who didn't before. Our entire lives end up being based on the circumstances that "happen" to us.
Everyone wants to be happy, right? I mean, people want to feel good ,to look good, and to be good. We want to be liked and prosperous and have things go well for us. We want to be surrounded by people we love and people who love us. We want to be able to do want we want and have things go our way. Since life doesn't just hand us all that (despite what some might tell you), we attempt to secure it all for ourselves. We try and build a life that will guarantee us happiness. After all, isn't this what America was founded on – "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?"
To be happy, we'll do just about anything, take any drug, follow any number of steps, start and end relationships, change jobs, and change addresses. We'll do whatever it takes to experience our own version of happiness. "Well, as long as you're happy," we say. "I just want you to be happy," we tell our loved ones. It seems that the whole world is pursuing happiness.
Then, why are so many so unhappy? Why are rates of depression and the amount of medications taken for emotional issues so high? Why are there so many broken marriages, broken homes, and broken lives? Why are so many addicted to so many coping mechanisms and why are we so stressed? It seems that for all of our striving, we are less happy than we've ever been.
Enter Jesus. He didn't come that first Christmas to make us happy. He told us that we would have trouble in this world. He warned us that we would be persecuted and that people would turn away from us. But, through Him, we were promised great joy. Joy is different from happiness. Joy speaks to a deep abiding assurance and confidence. It is a bubbling up of satisfaction from a well that will never run dry. Joy transcends happiness and does not change with circumstances. It lasts.
Where does joy come from? It comes from the Lord. Look at this progression of Scriptures:
"Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the Devil's schemes" Eph. 6:10-11.
"for the joy of the Lord is your strength" Nehemiah 8:10.
"You have made 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.
The Devil is a theif who seeks to destroy our lives. How do we stand against him? By being strong in the Lord, not in our selves. We look to God, not our own abilities. Where does our strength come from? From the joy of the Lord. We stand firm in joy that does not change or fade. How do we find this joy? In God's presence. If I want to stand through the trials of life, I have to be rooted in joy instead of happiness. Happiness is based on what is happening in the moment. Joy is based on what is eternal. God doesn't promise us happiness, but He does promise us joy. I can only find joy in God's presence.
Here is a video that illustrates the difference between happiness as we define it and joy. The Africans in the video might not have much to be happy about because their circumstances are so bleak. But, they have joy because they are tapped in to something beyond themselves, even though we are suffering. We can learn a lot from this.