To me, happiness is a something that is related to circumstances. I’m happy because my team won, it’s my birthday, it’s not raining, no one shouted at me today, etc.
Happiness is great, but it is not guaranteed. When my team lose, when it’s not my birthday, when it is raining, when people do shout at me, etc then I am less likely to be happy.
Joy is a deeper experience. Jesus has saved me from sin and death, he has made it possible to know him, he is with me always and he is changing my life. These and many other things give me a joy that I can feel even when life’s circumstances make me unhappy. Joy isn’t necessarily about an extreme emotional response, it is primarily a feeling of wellbeing and fulfilment.
Joy can take us through some hard times. Jesus endured the cross because of ‘the joy awaiting him’ (Hebrews 12.2). I really struggle with the line in the hymn ‘my song is love unknown’, which interprets this verse as ‘cheerfully he to suffering goes’. Jesus didn’t cheerfully or happily go to the cross, but the joy that was beyond the cross (saving us horrible lot) helped Jesus to persevere.
Joy is one element in the fruit of the Spirit. If we allow the spirit of God to live within us then joy will naturally develop. Joy is part of the evidence that someone knows God.
Think about the times when you have felt good in life. Are they just when things are going well or do you find joy in God and receive joy as a gift from him? Happiness is about circumstances but joy is a choice. I want to allow the gift of joy to grow in me and to overflow.
Overflowing is excellent (unless it is a bath you have left running) because it signifies plenty. The joy that God gives is never ending and so we cannot contain it within us which means there is plenty to go around!!