The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

The difference between joy and happiness is that happiness happens to us and joy is a choice one makes. Happiness depends on external factors. Even though we may seek it, desire it, pursue it, etc., feeling happiness is not a choice we make. Joy, on the other hand, is more than emotion. It is an attitude. It's a lens to see the world through.

Three young boys smiling
A young girl smiling
A girl laughing

Choosing Joy

On the spectrum of easy to hard there are fewer things easier than telling another person not to worry, or in this instance to choose joy. How am I supposed to choose joy? I want it. I'm tired of being sad, angry, frustrated, hopeless, etc. Is that good enough? Do I need to announce out loud, "I'm choosing joy"? Do I need to repeat "choose joy, choose joy, choose joy" throughout the day, each and every day, until I'm filled with joy?

We all know that choosing to feel one emotion versus another isn't easy. In fact, it seems impossible, as if we are at the mercy of our emotions, unable to rein them in. They just automatically kick into gear and take us for a ride, whether we like it or not. Tell a sad person to cheer up, and you’re most likely to hear, “I can’t.” Tell an angry person to let it go, and you may be the recipient of a burst of anger. Even though we’re each probably "guilty" of encouraging a friend to be happy at one time or another, we know it’s not that simple. If it was, there wouldn't be any grieving in the world.

Despite the reality of all of this, it is possible to be joyful in difficult times. The presence of anger, shame, grief, sadness, etc. doesn’t mean joy isn’t or can’t be present. And the presence of joy doesn’t mean there isn’t any pain in a person’s soul.

How Do I Choose Joy?

Choosing joy is like choosing love. It’s not something done once and forgotten. Choosing is a habit. Many times a day, each and every day, married couples overlook the imperfections of their spouses. They choose to see beyond the particular circumstances of a moment and extend grace to one another. Similarly, choosing joy requires us to look beyond our immediate circumstance to connect with a bigger picture. Joy requires connection.

How Do I Make Joy a Habit?

Good habits seem hard to come by. It's the bad ones that take no effort at all. That's because habits form via the path of least resistance.

  • Choosing to make joy a habit requires you to turn your focus outward. Repetitively.
  • Shift your attention away from your problems, your difficulties and yourself, and think about others. Repeatedly.
  • Connect with the feelings of those also affected. Regularly.

This process is quite possibly one of the hardest things a person can do. It's not something that will come quickly or easily. But considering others before yourself is a definite ticket to joy.

Young boy smiling
A couple smiles
A woman smiles

Destination Joy

Having a ticket to joy is not the same thing as being joyful. You still have to make the journey.

On your journey, you're going to have a collision or two...or ten. You'll get stuck in traffic. You'll break down. You'll take detours – trying to learn how to care about/for others, how to slow down and take one mile, or step, at a time, how to shift your focus outward. In every one of these moments you'll also have the opportunity to choose joy, to shift your focus toward others and to cement a new habit in place. You'll go in fits and starts. You'll make layovers. Some brief, some not so brief. How you choose to react to all of these bumps in the road, to life's bumps, in the long-term is what matters. Executing perfectly won't happen and doesn't matter.

Take every moment as grace. It's a choice you make. Give thanks for every moment. It's a choice you make.

And with these choices you will get to joy.

Joy as a Resource

Joy is not a limited resource; it's renewable. Joy breeds joy. It spreads when you give it away. As you progress on your journey to joy, as you experience the peace and contentment joy brings to life, you'll inevitably want to share your joy with others. When you reach that moment, we offer you this opportunity to choose joy for someone else. To choose joy for a child living in poverty.