Evidently, a lot of people, particularly Christians, think that, if they conduct themselves according to biblical teachings, they can have joy, regardless of whether or not they have happiness. In other words, these people make a distinction between the terms happiness and joy. But does the Bible actually make a distinction between happiness and joy?
The web site diffen.com distinguishes between happiness and joy as follows:
Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice frequently triggers this emotion.
And, the web site christianity.com also indicates that there is a differences between happiness and joy, but provides the following significantly different perspective:
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.
Likewise, the web site minimalismmadesimple.com says,
Happiness comes from external factors such as material things, people, places, and experiences.
[J]oy is a more internal feeling that comes from being at peace with who you are and what you have achieved.
The web site nytimes.com also makes a distinction between happiness and joy, stating:
Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. [Note: The phrase “when your heart is in another” is not explained in the article. We assume that it refers to caring deeply for someone else].
The core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better.
Strong’s Concordance indicates that the Hebrew term that is translated as happy in the Old Testament means “prosperity” and the Greek term that is translated as happy in the New Testament means “supremely blest,” “fortunate,” or “well off.” Thus, Strong apparently indicates that the terms translated as happy in both the Old Testament and the New Testament pertain to contentment that results from prosperity.
With regard to the term translated as joy, Strong states that, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew term means “great rejoicing,” whereas, in the New Testament, the Greek term refers to “cheerfulness” or “calm delight.” Thus, Strong seems to indicate that when joy is mentioned in the Old Testament, it refers to external expression, whereas when joy is mentioned in the New Testament, it alludes to internal feelings.
Explore the Bible: Leader Guide (Summer 2020), which is a quarterly publication used by a number of Christian churches as a Bible study guide, says on page 78,
We do well not to confuse joy with happiness. Our happiness depends on our circumstances. . . . Joy has nothing to do with circumstances. Happiness can fade when circumstances change. However, joy defies circumstances and abides consistently in our hearts. Joy doesn’t fade when conditions change because joy comes from a relationship with the Lord. As we walk with Him, we enjoy His presence and rejoice in His grace no matter what may be happening in our lives.
In contrast with the preceding sources, Webster’s Dictionary indicates that the terms happiness and joy are virtually interchangeable (i.e., each of the two terms can be used to define the other term). Webster defines joy as “a very glad feeling; happiness; great pleasure; delight” and defines happiness in essentially the same or reciprocal terms, so, technically, Webster indicates that there is not a significant difference in the definitions of the two terms.
Likewise, the web site gotquestions.org expresses the viewpoint that the Bible does not distinguish between the terms happiness and joy. According to this web site,
It is common today to hear believers speak of a difference between joy and happiness. The teaching usually makes the following points: 1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not. 2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting. 3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God. 4) Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine. But there is no such distinction made in Scripture, and forcing a distinction between two words that are so obviously close in meaning is unnecessary.
The aforementioned sources provide no consensus as to whether or not there is necessarily a distinction between the meanings of the terms happiness and joy. And, our own review of scriptures that use these terms has provided us with no compelling reason to believe that the Bible purposely distinguishes between happiness and joy. Instead, it is our belief that the Bible indicates that having material things provides only limited happiness or joy, whereas having eternal salvation provides virtually unlimited happiness or joy. [For information regarding how a person can have assurance of eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]