Did you know that the words “joy” and “happiness” aren’t even related? Perhaps the reason why we partner the two together has more to do with the English language, namely, a poor translation of the word “joy” in the English language that misses the target of the original Greek definition. Indeed, joy and happiness are opposites. A right understanding of the Greek word “joy” will not only illuminate the difference between the two words, but we’ll discover another English word that is compatible for “joy”, and it offers another meaning to ponder on this Christmas.
Joy and Happiness are Not Compatible
Have you ever considered why the word “happiness” is an imposter for the word “joy?” In addition to the two words not being related, consider their opposite meanings. In our materialistic culture, we married joy and happiness together. Our “happiness meter” fluctuates up and down depending on what is happening in our lives.
If we are getting what we want out of life and our circumstances are favorable, we consider ourselves happy, or joyful. And if our circumstances take a negative turn, likewise, we consider ourselves unhappy, or less joyful. The flaw with this understanding is that happiness is tied to emotions.
Word searches for “joy” produces words that describe feelings, or emotions-blissful, thrilled, elated, delighted, pleasant, gladness, and happiness. Therefore, emotions come and go and cannot be relied upon for experiencing genuine joy. In a nutshell, happiness has to do with getting, while joy is about giving. Did you get that? Joy has to do with giving….Interestingly, the word “joy” shares a root word with another important Christian word – grace.1
Christ-followers know that the definition of grace is the unmerited favor from our Lord Jesus Christ. Born with a sin nature, we can never earn grace, but out of God’s immense love for us, He has given Christians unmerited favor. This is because grace should prompt our hearts to respond with joy. Joy, then, is deep grace. And what are Christians called to do? They are to give grace to others. My family’s pastor Craig Laughlin of Marysville Church of the Nazarene explained it this way:
Joy is that fleeting moment as you witness small children opening presents on Christmas morning. This is a picture of unmerited favor. You, as parents, have purchased for them, or put something into their lives that they couldn’t possibly put into their own lives. They cannot earn it on their own.2
Other examples of joy are: a child’s first step, an “A” on a child’s test, witnessing a troubled teen turn from a life of sin, serving meals to the homeless, stocking a food bank, using a spiritual gift to benefit someone else, and a restored relationship. Joy isn’t about what we get, but what we give away to others. Thus, joy is giving away grace.
Grace is in the parents who guide and encourage their baby to take her first step. Grace is the many hours parents pour into their children to do well in school. Grace is the parents guiding, directing, encouraging, training, and praying‑pouring their energy into a troubled teen who decides to live God’s way. It’s that “something” we know they can’t possibly do for themselves. Grace (unmerited favor) was given and joy (grace) is the giver’s response. Joy is our response from what we experience when we give away grace. Christ wired us to give to others. Likewise, He also wired us to respond with joy. Consider the words the angel spoke to the shepherds in Luke 2:10: “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”(niv).
Because of shorter life spans, the shepherds of those early days in all likelihood didn’t live to see Jesus grow up and start His ministry. The shepherds were told of the good news-that the Messiah had come, however, the joy they experienced wasn’t so much for themselves as it was for the benefit of their children and the generations that came after them. For these shepherds who had seen the Christ-child, they realized this baby would change the lifestyle of their descendants. They responded in grace – deep joy in giving away the life-changing announcement for all time. And their joy lasted all their days. Deep in their hearts, these shepherds knew the world would never be the same again.3
If we, as parents, receive joy as the giver of gifts to our children, who cannot obtain these gifts for themselves, think of the joy God has over His gift of Jesus to us. What He gave to us is meaningful beyond measure‑something we cannot put into our own lives or obtain for ourselves. The only appropriate response is joy.
1Pastor Craig Laughlin, “Joy-It’s Not What You Think,” www.MarysvilleNaz.org. (Accessed 20 Dec. 2014).