Happiness vs. Joy

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. -Ecclesiastes 9:7

Dear members and friends,

In the USA, the pursuit of happiness of one of three inalienable rights for its citizens written in the constitution. However, this has been as inspirational as it is troublesome due to the lack of guidelines and clarity on the individual limits on pursuing one’s happiness. Yet at the same time, the very term “happiness” is somewhat troublesome because defining what it means to be happy mostly relies on personal and subjective interpretations and priorities. My personal curiosity is why the authors of the constitution chose the word “happiness” instead of “joy” considering all those who were involved in writing the constitution were most likely Christians. 

The Bible rarely uses the word “happiness.” In the New Revised Standard Version, the word “happiness” is not found in any canonical books. But the word “joy” is found 196 times, and the word “delight” is found 89 times. In my understanding, happiness seems to focus more on how an individual estimates the fulfillment of one’s desires in life, while the biblical terms “joy” and “delight” are the results of a good relationship mostly with God, and at times with other people. In a way, one could feel happiness without interacting with others, but one would never feel joy and delight without establishing a good relationship with others.  

What is joy and delight according to the Bible? In the proverbs, we read, “the prospect of the righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.” (10:28) According to Jesus, true joy is something that requires undergoing pain: “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” (John 16:20) The year 2020 has been a very challenging and hard year for us all; a year in which many of us suffered a great deal of pain. The year 2021 may be quite challenging as well. So, let us continue to do what is right before our God, and focus on sharing kindness, hope and joy in our loving relationships. 

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee