Sometimes I struggle with joy. How can I be joyful if things in my life don't seem to be going well? What if things don't go perfectly as planned? How can I be joyful when things in the world just seem... gross at times. I also wonder how I can be a good witness as a Christian if I'm always complaining about something or if I seem like I'm not happy. I think the reason it is difficult to be joyful is that we sometimes confuse happiness and joy. In my opinion, joy and happiness are two separate things that are still connected.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, happiness is:noun
There was one sermon I read, that described 2 Greek words that represent happiness and joy. I think these 2 illustrations really fit with how I think of happiness and joy. The author writes:
If you will forgive a little language discussion, just as we have two different words--happiness and joy, so the Greek also has two different words. The Greek word for happiness is Makarios and it refers to the freedom of the rich from normal cares and worries. It is the word used to describe a person who
has received some form of good fortune--money, health, children and that sort
of thing. And that is what our word happiness is about. If I am happy, it is
because things are going well for me--my outward situation is good. There are
no crises, I feel good, there's money in the checking account, nobody is out to
get me, my job is going well, and so forth.
I also agree that happiness is based on temporary things. Today, I had some fun classes with my 8th grade students. We got a lot done in class and the kids felt comfortable enough with me to tell me how they were honestly feeling about this new school year, their teachers and their lives in general. I had a nice conversation with a new colleague at my school, just making sure that she felt like things were going well in her new job. At the end of the day, after 130 students coming through my room, all I had to do was straighten out my chairs in order to clean up. I learned that some other teachers are feeling a little stressed about their work piling up, or not getting as much done in a day as they'd like- just like I'm feeling. My kids ran out to give me a giant hug once I got home from school. Both sons sat at the kitchen table and fully finished their homework before trying to escape to watch tv. All of these things made me happy. For the moment it was happening, and even remembering all of those things right now, I felt good. The problem with just being happy is that if you're not feeling temporarily good, you sometimes look for that temporary fix. It's like when you really want something that you don't have and you think "If I just had (fill in the blank), things would be better. I'd be much happier." Then you get what you wanted and you think "This is nice, but what I'd really like is (new temptation)." Then you get the next item and the cycle repeats. Sometimes when we're searching for things, we never find happiness- even if we get what we originally wanted.
And what happens when things are not going well? I am going to confess- I can be a huge complainer. If you see me (and my Irish skin) on a hot, muggy sunny day, you will not want to be around me. I'm miserable. If I'm surrounded by negative people or people who gossip all the time, I can easily be brought down from "happy" to "grumpy," sometimes I will even be sucked into participating in the complaining. I'm also a worrier. If I am friends with person who is struggling with something or have a student who I know is going through some bad stuff at home, I can stay up at night worrying about things I can do nothing about or about things that don't really affect me personally. My family life is not what I would like it to be. I am frequently disappointed in myself, even when I'm working hard. I also struggle with loneliness or feeling like I don't belong. Don't even get me started about how I feel when I'm running late. However, I would say that I am a person who is joyful.
Joy, to me, means to be happy despite the circumstances that are happening around me. That doesn't mean that I'm always "the cheery Christian lady" to everyone I meet. There are people who wonder "why I'm always so happy," but I guarantee that "happy" wouldn't be the first word that most people would come up with to describe me. Joy is difficult to explain. I read many articles before writing this post and many authors struggled to come up with how to describe joy. Contentment, happiness, and peace were all mentioned. In general it seemed that people related joy to happiness a lot but it is a deeper, less self-centered happiness. Joy is when you can have a horrible day teaching at school and still know that you are not a failure. It's when you have a bad day and snap at a good friend for no reason, yet still know that they care about you. It's when your kids are misbehaving all day or just insanely crazy and you still understand how blessed you are to have them as your children. It's when you feel like you have not lived up to what God has called you to do yet you know that He will not give up on you
Later, in the sermon I referenced above, the author say:
We do not have a direct command to always be happy. Neither do we have an
example of an always-happy Jesus. What we do have is the promise of joy.
The word in Greek is chairo, described by the ancient Greeks as the
"culmination of being" and the "good mood of the soul." Chairo is something,
the ancient Greeks tell us, that is found only in God and comes with virtue
and wisdom. It isn't a beginner's virtue, it comes as the culmination. They say