Me Talking: Joy vs Happiness

Yellow Cone Flower
image by Ash at Lucid Being

This post on joy vs happiness has taken a while to compose. I had never given the concept of joy much thought, so a great deal of reading and reflecting a la Arnold Bennett was required as I formulated my own philosophy of joy and how it differs from happiness. Your view of joy and happiness may be different.

Joy and happiness are emotions, pleasant or positive emotions which differ in their length, and intensity.

Joy vs Happiness: Length of Emotion;

I think of happiness as being an overall feeling of contentment which can last for hours, days, weeks or years. It may involve an overall appreciation of one’s life. Or it may refer to how one is feeling here and now. Joy, on the other hand is like a stab, it can come and go in an instant. To quote J. D. Salinger , “happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid.” That might, at first, seem abstruse. But I think it is the perfect metaphor. Happiness is firm, stable, difficult to move because it is made of many components. Joy is a liquid, coming and going, seeping away, here one minute, gone the next. As my friend, Charlene put it, “joy is more of a momentary somewhat ephemeral feeling while happiness is long term.”

Joy vs Happiness: Cause

Happiness is caused by external events or material things like a good job, a promotion, a nice house, travel, good friends – all important things. Happiness can take a while to achieve because it can be made up of various components, each adding to the whole. Joy is usually considered to be internal, given a spiritual cause, thought to be achieved only through belief in God. That is not my view. I think the joy can, and usually is, caused by something external – a majestic scene, the birth of a child, a bird hatching – but it is felt, perhaps, somewhere deeper in the soul or psyche than happiness. I also do not think that God needs to be in the picture. One can feel awe and joy because we are human, having within us the ability to appreciate all that is around us and within us. Joy may be experienced as gratitude, awe, or rapture, coming from within but influenced by the great physical world around us, without which we would not exist.

Joy vs Happiness: Intensity

Joy and happiness also differ in intensity. Most agree that joy is the more intense. It is as if joy, knowing its time is short, packs as much emotion into one stab as can be felt in eons of happiness. Joy has to be short – lived: rapture, awe, great gratitude would overwhelm us if offered long term.


It is believed by many that joy is something we should strive for. I think just the opposite. We can strive for happiness, search for it, create it. But joy is not something we can search for and find. C. S. Lewis said, “joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”, Once we have come to appreciate the value of life, often after suffering of some kind, we can wait for these uncommon moments when joy decides to find us. We cannot create joy as we can happiness. but perhaps we can create the circumstances that allows joy to visit.

As Marianne Williamson says, “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” Joy reminds of what is important in life. We cannot choose joy, but perhaps if we are lucky, joy can choose us.


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