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Is There a Difference Between Happiness and Joy?

Chambers, a truly great Bible teacher and Christ-follower, claimed that “there is no mention in the Bible of happiness for a Christian.” Likewise, it’s common to hear people make claims like this: “Joy is in 155 verses in the KJV Bible, happiness isn’t in the Bible.”[v]

The problem with these statements is that they simply aren’t true. Happy is found in the King James Version, which Chambers used, a total of 29 times. For example, Jesus told his disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). The apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians: “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Romans 14:22).

Just as holy speaks of holiness and joyful speaks of joy and glad speaks of gladness, obviously happy speaks of happiness!

Is it true that joy is not an emotion?

The idea that “joy is not an emotion” (a statement that appears online more than 17,000 times) promotes an unbiblical myth.

A hundred years ago, every Christian knew the meaning of joy. Today, if you ask a group of Christians, “What does joy mean?” most will grope for words, with only one emphatic opinion: that joy is different from happiness. This is like saying that rain isn’t wet or ice isn’t cold. Scripture, dictionaries and common language don’t support this separation.

Some claim that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not an emotion. But in Galatians 5:22, love and peace surround the word joy. If you love someone, don’t you feel something? What is peace if not something you feel?

I googled “define joy,” and the first result was this dictionary definition: “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” This definition harmonizes with other dictionaries and ordinary conversations, yet it contradicts countless Christian books and sermons.

God created not only our minds but also our hearts. It’s ill advised to pit happiness and joy against each other rather than embracing the emotional satisfaction of knowing, loving and following Jesus.

Happiness is a synonym for joy.

Consult English dictionaries and you’ll see how contrived this supposed contrast between joy and happiness is. The first definition of joy in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “a feeling of great happiness.”[vi] The American Heritage Dictionary defines joy as “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.”[vii]

What about Christian dictionaries? The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines joy as “happiness over an unanticipated or present good.”[viii] The Dictionary of Bible Themes defines happiness as “a state of pleasure or joy experienced both by people and by God.”[ix] Happiness is joy. Joy is happiness. Virtually all dictionaries, whether secular or Christian, recognize this.

Consider our common expressions:

• “He jumped for joy.”

•  “He is our pride and joy.”

• “I wept for joy.”

According to the vast majority of the usages of these two words in (1) English history, (2) English literature, (3) Bible translations and (4) English dictionaries, the words have far more in common with each other than not.

Modern distinctions between happiness and joy are completely counterintuitive.

For too long we’ve distanced the gospel from what God created us to desire—and what he desires for us—happiness.

We need to reverse the trend. Let’s redeem the word happiness in light of both Scripture and church history. Our message shouldn’t be “Don’t seek happiness,” but “You’ll find in Jesus the happiness and joy you’ve always longed for.”

Learn more in Randy’s book Happiness.  


[i] Brian Cromer, “Difference between Joy and Happiness,” Briancromer.com (blog), April 28, 2008.

[ii] John Piper, “Let Your Passion Be Single,” Desiring God, November 12, 1999.

[iii] Spurgeon, “A Happy Christian” (Sermon #736).

[iv] Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics (Great Britain: Oswald Chambers Publications, 1947), 14.

[v] “In Your Opinion, What’s the Difference between Joy and Happiness?” Yahoo! Answers.

[vi] Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (Britannica Digital Learning, 2014), s.v. “joy.”

[vii] American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., s.v. “joy.”

[viii] Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), s.v. “joy.”

[ix] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009), s.v. “happiness.”

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Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org), a nonprofit ministry dedicated to teaching principles of God’s Word and assisting the church in ministering to the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled, and unsupported people around the world. Before starting EPM in 1990, Randy served as a pastor for fourteen years. He is a New York Times best-selling author of over fifty books, including Heaven (over one million sold), The Treasure Principle (over two million sold), If God Is Good, Happiness, and the award-winning novel Safely Home. His books sold exceed ten million copies and have been translated into over seventy languages.