Most people think joy and happiness are the same thing. They’re not.
Happiness is external and temporary. When something happens to you, e.g. winning a ball game or receiving a promotion at work, you’re happy. Some external force has acted upon you to give you a feeling of elation. You have had some control over the ball game or the promotion, but those are essentially external circumstances. That’s what I mean by external.
On the other hand, your team may get thrashed in its next game. In a couple of years, you could lose your job. Where is that feeling of elation now? Happiness is temporary.
Joy is neither external nor temporary.
My favorite letter of the Apostle Paul is Philippians. Paul used the words “joy” and “rejoice” more often in that epistle than in any of his other letters. The remarkable thing about that is Paul wrote Philippians from prison as he awaited execution. He was pretty sure that he was going to die, yet he was joyful. Why? Because Paul had a profound relationship with Jesus Christ, his Lord. Paul’s joy was not external, because it did not depend on circumstances. It was a result of his faith in Christ. Neither was it temporary, because Paul knew that his joy would not be diminished by his death. If anything, his joy would be multiplied as Paul inherited eternal life.
Here’s another difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling. We win the lottery; we feel happy. In contrast, joy is an attitude. Joy is how we approach life, or, in Paul’s case, death.
In my forty plus years of ministry, I have observed an interesting phenomenon. As I visit nursing homes, I may listen to one resident complain about the food, the staff, and the schedule. Nothing pleases him. I walk down the hall and hear another patient talk about the great food, wonderful workers, and all the entertaining activities. Same day, same nursing home. What’s the difference? One person has a positive outlook; the other doesn’t.
Joy is the difference. Joy is an attitude which enables us to see the positive in people and situations. It is internal and eternal.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Note: One Sunday morning during Welcome and Announcements, Dean Schuette asked about the Pastor’s Patter. Great question! Throughout my ministry, I have written articles for various church newsletters and I have called each one “Pastor’s Patter.”
You, no doubt, are aware of what a pastor is. That’s me. But you may not be acquainted with the word “patter.”
“Patter is derived from the word “pater,” as in “Pater Noster,” the first two words of the Latin version of the Lord’s Prayer. Priests would require parishioners to recite the Lord’s Prayer several times for penance. After so many repetitions, reciting those sacred words became a sterile exercise. “Pater” became synonymous with mindless monologue. In time, “Pater” devolved into “patter!”
I chose to refer to my verbal offerings as patter so my readers may not set their expectations too high. Besides, the title has nice alliteration.
Thanks, Dean, for asking.