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Sep 24, 2019

What Is the Difference Between Happiness and Joy?

Dominick Albano

Bottom of the ninth, two outs, runners at second and third. 

My ten-year-old son, Anthony, comes to the plate. 

The other team just brought in a new pitcher. I coach his team, so it gave me a quick minute to have a word. 

I whispered in his ear, “No matter what happens, I’m really proud of you.”

He steps into the box. The first pitch comes in . . . 

Bam. 

Anthony smokes the ball into left field. It’s passed the left fielder. One run is in, then another. Game is tied. There’s no fence and Anthony is flying around the bases. He rounds third as the left fielder wings the ball towards the infield. But it’s too late. 

Anthony slides into home. Three run homer. Walk off win. 

When I think of the word joy, I can’t help but think of the end of that game. 

But was that joy? Or was I just really happy?

Would I have felt the same way if he had struck out to end the game? Or lined it straight to the third basemen and we lose?

We all want to be happy. 

Man is preoccupied with happiness. Every decision we make—even the really stupid ones—are typically driven by the idea that whatever we decide to do will lead us to happiness. 

And, as I’ve written about before, there is a good reason for that: God wants us to be happy in this life and in the next. 

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But God doesn’t just speak about happiness. 

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

John 15:11

Joy. Jesus speaks about joy, and not just in passing circumstances. These words come at the Last Supper, when Jesus is giving some of his final words to his apostles before his passion. Obviously what he said was pretty important to him. 

” … your joy may be full.”

What does that even mean? Can you even imagine it? Complete joy?

Happiness vs. Joy

I think it’s safe to say—and it might even be a bit obvious—that joy and happiness are not the same thing. 

So what’s the difference? What is the distinction between joy and happiness?

Galatians 5:22-23 says:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”

There it is. One clear difference between joy and happiness. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is not. 

But what does that mean for us?

Truth is, you can make yourself feel happy. In many ways happiness depends on you. 

Taking a nap will make you feel happy for a bit. 

Eating a delicious filet mignon will make you feel a little happy. 

Finishing a big project usually makes you happy. 

It’ll make you feel happy when your favorite team wins the big game. 

You can, in a certain sense, make yourself feel happy. 

But joy, on the other hand, is entirely different. 

Joy doesn’t come from you. 

Joy isn’t a feeling. It’s not a fleeting pleasure or jolt of high emotion the way happiness is. 

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is active in your life, you feel joy, as well as peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, self-control, and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit. 

To experience joy, you need the Holy Spirit. 

Bring on the Spirit. 

So, back to my son’s baseball game. Would I have felt the same way if my son had struck out? 

The honest answer is no. I wouldn’t have felt the same way. I wouldn’t have been as happy as I was when he crossed that plate. 

But, in the end, I get joy out of living my vocation—with the help of the Holy Spirit. And I wouldn’t trade that joy to win any baseball game.  

So how do you get some more of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Easy: pray. And that’s not my advice. This one comes straight from Pope St. John Paul II. 

Pope St. John Paul II once told a group: 

“From the time I was little, I learned to pray to the Holy Spirit. When I was 11, I was feeling sad because I was having a lot of trouble with math. My dad showed me in a little book the hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus,’ and he told me, ‘Pray this and you’ll see that He’ll help you to understand.’ I’ve been praying this hymn every day for more than 40 years, and I’ve seen how much the Divine Spirit helps us.”

I think it’s safe to say that if it was good enough for St. John Paul II, it’s probably good enough for us. 

So if you want to experience more joy, pray for some more of the Holy Spirit. That’s how St. John Paul II did it, and that’s how God intended it. 

Just in case you can’t remember how that old Come, Holy Spirit hymn goes that St. John Paul II was talking about, here’s the text: 

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.
Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God’s hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.
Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o’erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.
Far from us drive the foe we dread,
and grant us Thy peace instead;
so shall we not, with Thee for guide,
turn from the path of life aside.
Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.
Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven. Amen.

You May Also Like:

Does God Want Us to Be Happy?

How to Find Happiness in This Life

The Fundamental Theory of Happiness: How to Find Your Purpose and Be More Joyful


Dominick Albano is a nationally sought-after speaker, having spoken at countless men’s conferences, parish missions, and other parish events. His podcast, The Best Catholic Podcast, features interviews with some of the spiritual greats of our time. He lives in Northern Kentucky with his wife and their four sons. Learn more about him and his ministry at dominickalbano.com.

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