What Is the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?

Happiness is merely external, fleeting, and is only achievable on earth. Joy, on the other hand, is internal, selfless, sacrificial, and a spiritual connection with God. We need joy in our lives just as we need the Father and Jesus in our lives.

Glory Dy
Heart drawn in a window mist

Joy and happiness are two different emotions that are somewhat similar but are actually very different. Joy is attributed to something very consistent and internal, while happiness tends to be triggered externally.

Happiness Is External, Joy Is Internal

One of the very obvious differences between happiness and joy is that happiness tends to be achieved externally, while joy is something achieved internally. For example, we can feel happy when we receive something like a gift or achieve something like awards or honors. These things are external or belong to the surface of our lives. It is not something deeper but, rather, superficial.

Joy, on the other hand, is something deeper. It is something we feel internally in our lives as human beings. For example, when we feel great joy when we worship God the Father and when we feel great joy when we remember our Lord Jesus Christ dying on the cross to save us from sins.

Joy is something to do with our inner nature rather than the outer nature of our human character. John 15:11 says we are reminded by this, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Happiness Is Bliss, Joy Is Selfless

Another major difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is merely a bliss while joy is something selfless. When you experience something blissful, it means it is ephemeral or something that can end in an instance. Happiness, therefore, is something that can end once it is felt. It does not sustain.

For example, when you feel very happy because someone you like finally said that they like you back. This kind of feeling is fleeting and therefore it’s just happiness.

On the other hand, joy is something more selfless, which means that you have joy when it is not for mere personal gain. When you feel emotion thinking about how Jesus Christ died to save us, then it is joy. When you feel emotion when your loved one finally receives Christ, then that is joy.

When you feel emotion when your loved one is experiencing joy like giving birth, for instance, then that, too, is joy. Joy is not only for yourself but for others. In Hebrews 12:2, we are reminded that “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Happiness Is Pleasure, Joy Is A Sacrifice

Another difference between joy and happiness is that happiness can be something related to pleasure, while joy is more of a sacrifice. There are many types of pleasures in this world that can make a person happy. For example, pleasures of the flesh as written in Galatians 5:19, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery;”

These are examples of things that can make a person happy due to pleasure, which is not purely good but purely flesh. Paul’s letter to the Galatians emphasizes that we should not mistake these kinds of things that make us happy and, rather, focus on things that give us joy.

Joy is a sacrifice. When you think of others rather than yourself, it means you have joy in your heart. Joy does not only think of pleasure, rather, what is right and moral in the eyes of God.

Happiness Is Achievable on Earth, Joy Is a More Spiritual Connection with God

Another difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is only achievable on earth, while joy is spiritual and only achievable through the love of Christ. In Galatians 5:22, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

Therefore, joy is a spiritual fruit that is given to us by the spirit. Joy is not only attained here on earth, but it is also something that we connect with God because it is given to us by the Spirit.

Happiness, on the other hand, is something achievable only here on earth. Worldly things, concepts, and emotions are achieved on earth and it stops there. For example, when you finally learn how to drive a car, it makes you happy. Or you are finally able to bake a chocolate cake. These things are in the world by nature and are achieved on earth, but they are superficial.

Joy is part of our conquest for eternal life because it is given to us by the Father through the Holy Spirit. It is not only on earth but in the heavens above. In John 10:28-29, we are reminded by this, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Happiness Is Not Necessarily Good, Joy Is Purely Good

Another difference between happiness and joy is that happiness can be both good and bad, while joy is only good because it comes from God. For example, we can have happiness like a two-edged or a double-edged sword.

For instance, you got into a car accident because you were drunk after having too much alcohol with someone you truly love. You were so happy while drinking with the person that made you happy, but then it turned out to be bad because you had a car accident. This is merely happiness.

Joy, on the other hand, is purely good. Let us go back to the scenario when you finally meet the love of your life. If you have joy, you will surely be conscious of your actions and not end up drinking too much.

Rather, sacrificing a fleeting bliss by not drinking too much and, instead, enjoy the moment with your loved one. This is joy because it means you thought about the purely good just as Christ thought of us. He promised us eternal life and joy with Him.

What Does This Mean?

Many people tend to have difficulty differentiating happiness from joy. However, it is actually very simple. Happiness is merely external, fleeting, can sometimes only be for pleasure, is only achievable on earth, and can sometimes not necessarily be good.

Joy, on the other hand, is internal, selfless, sacrificial, a spiritual connection with God, and is purely good. We need joy in our lives just as we need the Father and Jesus in our lives. That is why, to be able to attain joy, we must receive Christ, follow Him and His teachings.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ksenija18kz


Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.


Originally published August 13, 2020.