Happiness vs Joy | Why You Should Stop Trying to Be Happy



Each day brings its own set of challenges and rewards. Will we get to work on time? Have a successful meeting? Find time to work out and stay positive? Or will there be traffic, tension between colleagues, too many emails, junk food, and high stress levels?

If you think that your happiness depends on your circumstances, you’d be right. The popular notion of happiness depends on things, people, places, thoughts, and events that are apart from us. If you are seeking happiness, you are probably looking for quick external fixes like a piece of cake, alcohol, drugs, money, vacation, or any other version of fleeting “happiness.”

We all experience a mix of circumstances that are rarely under our control. We have to understand that regardless of what is happening around us—they are just factors, not determinants, of our emotional response to them.

Happiness is an emotion that people sadly spend so much of their lives searching for, as if it were some magical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. When we view happiness as an end in itself, we miss out on the state of perpetual joy that is possible when we trust in the Lord. Many people are at their wit’s end when it comes to achieving happiness. That’s because most people have it completely wrong.

Happiness vs Joy

When you’re trying to pursue happiness, happiness is driven by your circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is the ability to experience peace and contentment day in and day out, regardless of the circumstances.

So don’t look for happiness in your circumstances—seek complete joy in spite of your circumstances.

In contrast to the popular conception of happiness, joy is a state of being, a state of peace and content. It’s an internal choice, a characteristic of self that becomes a part of your nature—not some flimsy emotional response to some external stimuli.

Joy comes from being content, which is cultivated internally. Being content comes from being present with God—not seeking some kind of future happiness high, not comparing yourself to others, and not beating yourself up over things in the past that caused unhappy, negative emotions.

If you’re always looking to people and circumstances to tell you how you should be acting and feeling, life is going to be fully external. When you are reactive and external, you won’t be in control and will always be pulled and pushed with the ebbs and flows of life.

Search for happiness without God and you’ll find yourself on a never-ending road of despair, loneliness, rage, and ruin. Search for Christ and you will find Him.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).

Joy is not a circumstance, but a commitment. It is unwavering because it is pure. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). It is not a reaction to any particular event, but a lens through which to experience all events—a motto for life.

The real question is, how do we allow this joy to come forth? How do we open our eyes and understanding so we can see everything in our lives as meaningful? The Lord does not waste time with things we do not need. The trials and tribulations that we lament and have negative feelings about are for our highest good.

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 5:17).

“Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways” (Proverbs 20:30).

Joy, Not Happiness:

  1. Realize the difference between happiness and joy. Understand that happiness is allowing our circumstances to dictate our lives and joy is living above our circumstances.
  2. Resolve to pursue joy over happiness. This involves developing a spiritual maturity and an understanding of Scripture.
  3. Ask God for help and wisdom. Tell Him that you want to find contentment in spite of life’s circumstances.
  4. Remind yourself that God’s running the show. You have a larger purpose (regardless of whether or not you hit traffic or wish you’d handled any one circumstance better). We are guaranteed to face trials of many kinds, but there’s always a reason to rejoice.

Here’s your challenge:

As you go through the days, months, and years of your life, do your best to rise above your external circumstances rather than give in to pursuits of “happiness” and being emotionally reactive to all and everything. Pick and choose where you put your energy—life isn’t an exhausting hunt for happiness; it’s a joyful journey.

You can help eliminate the external influences on your happiness and joy by cutting down social media, scheduling time for prayer and introspection, reading the Bible and keeping a journal.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23).

I hope this helps you today. If you enjoyed this week’s devotional, share with your friends and family using the social links above.

For more advice on increasing the amount of joy in your life, see the blogs below.

Related Posts:


Hey, this is Todd Phillips, your online pastor, and high performance coach. We’re going to talk today about an incredibly important subject that was really a struggle for me for years—and that’s the difference between happiness and joy.

I was talking to my daughter—she’s in middle school right now—just a couple days ago. And she’s been really having a lot of struggles with her friends and school, and she sat down with me and you could just tell her circumstances were overtaking her and she was not just unhappy. She was almost despondent. And she said to me, “Dad, I’m just not happy. I don’t know how to handle all this junk in my life. I just want to have a day where I don’t have any problems.”

And I really thought about that and wanted to share this with you today. You know, it took me a long time to figure out that there’s a difference between happiness and joy.

And I shared that with my daughter that day, and I want to share it with you too. She was letting her circumstances dictate her life. And that’s really what happiness is all about. When you’re trying to pursue happiness, happiness is driven by your circumstances.

So for example, if you go through a whole day and you decide not to eat the donut at the break room, and there’s not too much traffic on the road, and you don’t get into a wreck or a speeding ticket, and you don’t argue with anybody when you get back home in the afternoon or evening, and you get to bed without any problems, then you’re happy that day because you haven’t had any problems. Right, the circumstances haven’t gotten in your way.

But if you have problems, if you get a ticket, if other circumstances hit you just like they were hitting my beautiful daughter. She was having more unhappy days than happy days because her life was dictated by her circumstances.

But there’s another way and this really did shift my entire life, it shifted my entire perspective when I really got a grip on this from a biblical perspective—from God’s view.

And that’s that we’re not supposed to be pursuing happiness. We’re supposed to be pursuing joy.

Jesus says this in John 10:10—he says, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

And that’s just huge, right? I mean God wants us to live an abundant life; God wants us to live a joy-filled life. In fact, he spends a lot of time through the words of Jesus in the New Testament and also Paul in the New Testament talking about the reality of what it means to live a joy-filled life—or a content life, a life full of peace.

And I think all of us want that, right? All of us want to live a peace-filled, content-filled, joy-filled life. And the difference between happiness and joy is that joy—and let me just give you this definition—“joy is the ability to experience peace and contentment day in and day out, regardless of our circumstances.”

Now, that sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? If we could actually live lives of joy in spite of our circumstances that would be the key. Because here’s the deal—if we’re praying to God for God to let us have days with no problems—those aren’t going to come very often.

The fact is that the Bible says that we’re going to face trials of many kinds. I mean days fill of trials and challenges are the days that we can expect. It’s very unusual that we’re going to have a problem-free day, or a worry-free day.

The reality is the problems in our lives. So the key is not to have a problem-free day; the key is to learn how to find joy and contentment in the middle of our challenges. And that’s what I hope you’ll understand today, and that’s what I tried to share with my daughter, and what I’ve been trying to live in my life for the last 15 years or so since I started to learn this.

There’s a great example of a guy that really figured this out. And I’m going to read you some passages from this guy’s life. Again, it’s Paul; I talk about Paul all the time. He wrote most of New Testament under the direction of the Holy Spirit. And there’s a great example—he is—of a guy that figured out how to live a joy-filled life. Not to let negative circumstances get in the way of him living a content, peaceful, joy-filled life.

There’s a point where he’s in prison one time and he doesn’t ever know if he’s going to get out. And what’s interesting is that there’s a letter to the Church at Philippi that he writes from prison. And most theologians call it “The Letter of Joy.”

So he in the middle of prison, not even sure if he’s ever going to get out of prison, writes these words. Let me just read them to you, this is Philippians 4, chapter 4 through 7, he says:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. [This is from prison.] Again, I’ll say, “Rejoice!” Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guide your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Then later in the same way it kind of sums it up—and this is the key that I want you to focus on right here.

Paul says, “I have learned to be content [here it is] whatever my circumstances.” Isn’t that brilliant?

He says, “I know what it is to be in need [bad circumstances] and I know what it is to have plenty [good circumstances]. I’ve learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

And then he says this in verse 13: “I can do all this [this is how he can do all this] through Him [he’s speaking of Christ] through Christ who gives me strength.”

So here’s a guy that went through shipwrecks and being stoned and left for dead and put in prison he thought maybe for life, he went through so many challenges and yet he had learned—he even says it—he learned the secret of being content.

How would you like to learn the secret of being content regardless of your circumstances? Listen, that’s just knowing that there’s a difference between pursuing happiness and pursuing joy. This secret, and when I call it a secret, it really is this. I think most people in the Christian Church miss this. I think Paul, and it shouldn’t be this way, but Paul is rare. He found the secret of being content. He found the secret of joy. And here’s the deal though, we can all live that life. God wants us to live that life. We can all live a joy-filled life that is—if you can believe this—immune to even the most challenging circumstances that are guaranteed to hit us in life.

And I just want to give you 4 things real quick [this will be down below the video as well], but for a Christ-follower, the way that we can experience or start to experience this joy-filled life where we’re not dictated by our circumstances. Where we’re, you know we always say, I say, “How are you doing?” And then someone would say, “Well under the circumstances, I’m doing very well,” or “Under the circumstances, I’m doing OK.”

Well as Christians, we’re supposed to live our lives above our circumstances and that’s possible.

Let me just give you some ideas of how that can happen:

Number 1: just realize the difference between happiness and joy. Just understand that happiness is allowing our circumstances to dictate our lives and joy is above our circumstances.

Number 2: and this may sound a little strange, but just resolve to pursue joy. And that has a lot to do with reading and Scripture, understanding the words of Christ, the words of Paul under the direction of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament about the reality of joy.

And we’ll have some of those passages below as well.

But also, Number 3: this is very important—ask God for His wisdom in this area of your life. You know one of the best things we can do if we’re watching this, if you’re watching this video right now and you’re going, “ You know, I never got a grip between happiness and joy and I really want to understand that because I do want to live above my circumstances. I do want to find contentment in spite of the challenges of my life.”

Just go to God. “God, listen I don’t fully understand this but I watched this video today and I’m really getting a grip on the fact that I’m stuck in this reality of living, pursuing happiness and I want to live pursuing joy. Will you help me with that?” Just ask God to help you.

And then, Number 4, finally: Just remind yourself that God’s running the show. You know, when we give our lives to Jesus, He owns our lives. And he has a purpose for our lives. And Paul knew that. Paul knew that his life was God’s.

And in that, he was able to understand that even the challenging circumstances that he was going through, God was in control. God was looking down on him, protecting him, watching over him 24/7. So he was able to see his circumstances from God’s perspective.

And that allowed him to experience joy even in spite of the most challenging circumstances of life. So, remember those four things and this is my prayer to you:

That today, when a challenging circumstance comes up, that instead of allowing it to affect you, you would go to God. You’d say, “You know, God, this is a really challenging situation.”

Whether it’s traffic or a challenge at work, whatever it might be—you say, “God, will you show me that I can experience joy and contentment even in the midst of this challenging situation?” And God will start to build a habit of you seeing your circumstances in light of His goals and His purposes in your life. I hope that helps you today.

Until we see each other again, Live Passionately, Give Generously, and Impact this World for God!

[after video]

Hey, it’s Todd. Did you get something out the video you just watched? I really hope you did.

I mean, that’s my passionto give you something that can be applied rightly to your life, right now.

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