Tone and Terry were identical twin boys we grew up with, “they look so alike” people would often say. They had outstanding similarities, both wore spectacles, dressed alike (just for the fun of it) had the same body profile and to complicate matters their voice patterns were indistinguishable. Notwithstanding that, we knew them apart, Terry was the smaller and quieter of the two. In fact, while they were identical to many, to those of us who spent time with them every day they were very different.
Later in life I met Julia and Julianne – same challenge, identical in every way. However as with Tone and Terry these twins also had their differences.
It behoves to this day, after several years I still cannot distinguish between Brandon and Chad aka “Twin Men”, volleyball teammates with both my sons. Neither of my sons would agree that Twin Men were indistinguishable. I never found out who the setter was and who was the attacker, I’m convinced they switched roles every other match.
This is why joy and happiness are so confusing to many — they look so alike. To the casual observer they appear to be identical, but, oh, my friend they are as different as Tone and Terry, Julia and Julianne and Twin Men.
Both joy and happiness are pleasurable, delightful, beneficial and necessary for life’s balance. Life would be unbearable without joy and/or happiness. The COVID-19 pandemic, escalating crime, global warming, geo-political instability, Russia and Ukraine conflict, breakdown of the supply chain, inflation etc. all make this world a sad and unfortunate place.
Happiness and joy restore the balance of life, even if only for a short time. While the two words are used synonymously at times, they are not synonyms.
The Bible speaks about the “joy of our salvation” (Ps. 51:12), and joy as “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). It also speaks about happiness at different places, but never does it equate the two or hints at it.
Joy is internal, it is deep and long lasting. Happiness is transient, shallow, even fickle and is regularly dependant on the externals. Happiness is easily threatened and can be completely terminated by a change in events. Joy, on the other hand, is deeper, can endure temporary setbacks, is not easily challenged by the externals and is more persistent.
Joy can sustain moments of happiness the reverse may not always hold true. Happiness alone will not create joy in a person. A person of joy possesses the innate ability to be unhappy about a specific situation and yet retain inner joy as general disposition – happiness does not have this characteristic.
It should not be presumed that a happy person is a person of joy, neither it is true that a person full of joy will always be happy. Remember happiness is threatened by externals, while joy is more resilient to happenings, especially when speaking about the joy of the Lord.
Joy and happiness are both good and desirable conditions. However, if I were to choose one above the other, I would opt for joy every time. What about you?
Junior C. Spooner is the pastor of Kinnaird Church of God.