By: Woman of Joy-
Over the years I’ve heard people describe the differences between joy and happiness by saying that joy is an experience we can choose, whereas happiness is purely circumstantial. On the surface, I understand the sentiment but I’ve also discovered more similarities between them than differences.
Allow me to explain. I recently wrote a book about waiting, and as familiar as I was with what I planned to write, it wasn’t until I put pen to paper that I was challenged to articulate thoughts that had only ever lived in my head. I needed to flush out the nuances and layers of what it’s like to endure difficult seasons of waiting. In the process, notions of joy and happiness came up a number of times and I realized similarities between them I hadn’t noticed before.
We could say joy is more of a choice and happiness is based on ideal circumstances, but in reality, they are both a choice, one may simply go deeper than the other. When I look up the definition of joy I read, “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” And the definition of happiness reads, “a state of well-being and contentment.”
The impression I have simply by reading these definitions is that the experience of joy runs deeper, and is a response to something exceptional happening in our lives. Whereas happiness is a slightly less enrapturing experience of something great but perhaps less exceptional.
I’ve learned by living through difficult waiting seasons and writing about them that in order to experience joy or happiness we are required to make choices, and usually difficult ones. When we’re waiting to start a family, a career, for a healing in our mind or body, to get married, or for a financial breakthrough, most of what we feel and experience is unpleasant. We feel sad, angry, disappointed, uncertain, and out of control. These circumstances certainly don’t lend themselves to an experience of joy or happiness.
What I discovered in writing about waiting is that one of the most painful aspects is that it causes us to feel like we are at the mercy of something or someone else. This can be a disempowering and helpless feeling. Without realizing it, we outsource our joy and happiness to something outside of ourselves that we often don’t have much control over. God has given us something greater and more transcendent than control though. He has endowed us with two important tools—agency and authority. Agency to use our voice and authority with God in prayer.
To ensure you have a solid working definition of agency, according to Psychologist Albert Bandura, agency is defined as “the human capability to influence one’s functioning and the course of events by one’s actions.” Bandura suggests there are four functions of agency: the ability to set intentions, the ability to have forethought, the capacity to self-regulate, and the ability to self-reflect.
If joy and happiness are a result of some positive experience, what if we can exercise our agency and authority to create an experience of joy and happiness now even while we’re waiting?
This removes some of the sting and power from our circumstances and deposits it into our hearts and minds now. If we believe that the only joy, happiness, peace, or relief we can experience is available at some undisclosed place and undetermined time, we will live anxious and disempowered in the meantime.
The Gospels are filled with encouragement from Jesus to speak up and use the authority he gave us to effect change in our lives now–not only when our circumstances shift.
“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:13
“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20-21
The two words that stand out to me in these verses are, “ask” and “say”. They illustrate the agency and authority available to you and me. Regardless if the mountain that moves is your circumstance or your internal experience, contrary to how it feels, you can choose to create joy and happiness in your life right now.
Let me ask you a question:
If the issue in your life that is causing you distress were gone what would you feel and experience? Whatever the words that came to your mind, what if you could create those same feelings of joy, happiness, peace, or contentment for yourself now with the agency and authority God has given you?
Jesus was intentional when he said that “he didn’t only come to give us life but life more abundantly.” One of the most significant ways we can experience abundant life is by stepping into the agency and authority God has given us so we can experience the deepest joy and happiness in our lives now as we are in the process and on the journey towards change, transformation, and breakthrough.
Barb Hill is a writer and Licensed
Mental Health Therapist who is
passionate about supporting others
in both their navigation of faith and
In 2019, Barb founded Holding Space Counseling, a thriving group practice
in Franklin, TN where she works as a
trauma therapist as well as oversees
and supervises other therapists in
their clinical work. Barb calls
Tennessee home, and lives in
Nashville, TN with her pup Nash
Connect with Her
Therapy Practice Website:
Barb's book is titled, Seasons of Waiting: An Invitation to Hope and can be found here on Amazon.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read July's blog in the Women of JOY series. I pray that it inspires you and empowers you as you seek to find true JOY in Christ alone in any and all circumstances!
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