It took me a long time to figure out that happiness and joy aren’t the same thing.
That’s not entirely true. I’m still figuring it out. I’m constantly figuring it out.
You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult a lesson to learn. Happiness is fleeting – it’s self-centered and fickle and wildly dependent on whether I slept funny or if the sun is shining or what my hair looks like. Happiness is effected by my mood… heck, it is my mood! I can be happy one minute and disappointed the next. Cute outfit? Happy! Stubbed toe? Sad. New opportunity? Happy! Terrible story about injustice? Sad. Good day with husband? Happy! Miscommunication? Sad. You get the idea.
In terms of overall happiness, I suppose you could average out my happy and unhappy moments to decide that I’m a generally happy person. By nature, I’m in a good mood most of the time. I’m blessed to be able to carry happiness around with me pretty regularly, to have more up days than down ones, and to be pretty easily entertained and pretty relentlessly optimistic. But there’s a direct correlation between happiness and comfort in my life. When I’m comfortable (I like my circumstances, I like my friends, I like my meal, I like the weather, etc.), I’m happy. When I’m uncomfortable (during an argument, in the freezing rain, when I drop my keys in a mud puddle twice in a row), I don’t feel as happy. And as my comfort is fleeting, so is my happiness.
Culturally, we value happiness, like, whoa. We’ve written the right to its pursuit into the foundation of our country, we write, read, and spend thousands on books dedicated to how to achieve it, and we use it often to define success. Happiness is hailed as one of the ultimate virtues, the highest reward for a well -lived life. Make the right choices, marry the right person, get the right job, and keep the end goal in sight – happiness.
Here’s the problem: happiness isn’t guaranteed. Tons of studies have been done on successful folks who still aren’t happy, and folks with no visible cause to be happy who are. So many factors are involved in superficial glee – our genetic makeup, our preferences, our communities, our chemical balances, our hopes, our drive. Nobody can promise that we’ll be granted ultimate happiness. God doesn’t even promise that we’ll be happy, or even that He necessarily always wants us to be. I’d even guess that none of us could sustain ultimate happiness. We’d keel over from the sheer exhaustion of it all.
But joy? Joy is deeper. Joy is fundamental. Joy is spiritual core strength. an ability to endure, an unwavering foundation. Joy doesn’t necessarily manifest in happy dances and perfect circumstances. It sits underneath our mood swings and tearfests and hums, a perpetual radiator of ultimate okayness that warms even our iciest fears. We are braced by joy. When we’re joyful, truly joyful, it’s because our hope is placed in something bigger than our immediate circumstances. Joy is the whisper that reminds us who we are and how wildly we’re loved in the face of every crisis and every celebration. Joy is the way we survive unbelievable tragedy and incredibly difficult trials. Joy sustains.
Happiness is a fickle place to put our hope. Without joy, happiness has us continually roller-coastering through life – we’re up, we’re down, we’re upside down, and the threat of spiraling out of good favor is always looming. When we’re joyful, happiness can be celebrated without the fear of the fall, because we know we haven’t failed when it’s gone. I think I’ll spend the rest of my life relearning that it’s possible to be sad, or frustrated, or scared, and still be joyful. And that knowledge, that assurance that my joy can remain no matter what happens next, that I don’t have to fear spiraling into doom, that I can rest in the completeness of the hope I’ve been given? That’s an incredible gift.
I hope you’re happy. But more than that, I hope you’re joyful. I hope your joy is found in something, in someone, so much mightier than your world and your whims. I hope it penetrates every sadness and lifts you out of any darkness, brings you back to the bigger story, wraps you up, and sends you running, laughing, and jumping for joy.
I hope you’re happy, but I believe you deserve to be joyful. I believe you were made to be joyful.