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Your Better Self with Akanna: What’s the Difference Between Joy & Happiness?

The dictionary defines ‘happy’ as “Feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy”; and defines ‘joy’ as “Feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.”



That’s a question my fiancée threw my way last week. She’d grappled with it, asked several people, and what she noticed was that there were two camps of answers: Christian and non-Christian.

Christians generally defined joy as more long-lasting and happiness as temporal or fleeting, while non-Christians said joy and happiness meant the same thing. Even though she’s Christian, she was leaning toward the ‘non-Christian definition’ herself.

The problem with the Christian definition is that it encourages people to look down on happiness as a “worldly” thing, to look down on people who pursue happiness as being vain. It also encourages the idea of not having fun at all but yet claiming to be full of joy within – even though your face hasn’t got the memo yet.

When you think of someone, maybe a child, who is full of joy, don’t you picture someone who’s very happy too? So would you say that joy and happiness are the same thing?

I would say that happiness is a subset of joy. Someone who is joyful expresses happiness as one of his characteristics. Other characteristics that go along with that are: contentment, peace and hopefulness. Joy, to me, is a much greater degree of happiness. I would love to say, “You can have happiness without joy but not joy without happiness,” but I can’t even say that. I’m not convinced enough that the two words mean different things. This is just my own definition until I’m convinced otherwise.

Many people say that back in the day, the two words were used interchangeably – even in the Bible. But later on, many Christians began to spread this doctrine that it was only worldly people who sought after happiness, while true Christians were filled with joy. I think what they were attacking was the idea of finding happiness in things outside of God, but somehow ended up lumping things together until they made “happiness” into a worldly concept and adopted “joy” as a holy concept.

But that doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem correct. The dictionary defines ‘happy’ as “Feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy”; and defines ‘joy’ as “Feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.

So you definitely can’t separate the two. You can only make a distinction between relying on other people/things to make you happy, and being in control of your own happiness. And I think everyone agrees with that.

Apparently, what everyone does not agree with is that the words ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ mean different things. As you just saw in the dictionary definition, the words are even used to describe one another. That’s where my confusion comes from! Do these words mean the same thing or not?

I don’t have an answer yet. I don’t think my fiancée does either. But, so far, she’s leaning toward the non-Christian camp while I’m leaning toward the Christian.

So I’m just going to stop here and turn the question over to you, my dear readers: What’s the difference, if any, between joy and happiness? And why do you think so?

Here’s keeping fingers crossed for a solution to this conundrum!


  1. A Fan

    March 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    I asked similar question few weeks back. Either joy or happiness, we all want to be happy, we all want to have Joy. so the attention isn’t on the narrative but what makes you happy(joyful) without hurting another person. That should be our concern.

    • Akanna Okeke

      March 19, 2019 at 2:43 pm

      Right, so I guess you are leaning towards regarding both of them as the same thing? i.e. no difference (in meaning) between joy and happiness.

  2. Pop goes the weasel

    March 19, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Joy is in my opinion beyond being happy. It is constant whether the circumstances are pleasant or not. An example would be I would be happy at the prospect of good news regarding a job/Career Advancement etc. Joy exists in my life regardless of whatever news I get good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant because for me my joy derives from God, and it isn’t tied to anything outside of who God is to me.

    • Akanna Okeke

      March 19, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      That’s the Christian-camp definition 🙂 Joy is more constant than happiness. Would you then say that happiness is one of the expressions of having joy, and that it is not always the expression you have, especially when going through difficulty?

      If so, then what are the constant expressions that you must have, no matter what, if you indeed have joy?

  3. The K

    March 24, 2019 at 10:35 am

    I’m leaning towards the christian one; that is happiness as a subset of joy.

    Congrats on your engagement. I could not help but notice your usual “my girlfriend” has now switched to “my fiancee” LOL. May God bless bless your union.

  4. Akanna Okeke

    March 25, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Yeah, I’m with you on that leaning, only that it’s not really clear that it should be interpreted that way.

    Thanks for your best wishes and for noticing the status change, LOL!

  5. funmilola

    March 27, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I’ll go with happiness is a subset of joy. My joy comes from the conviction that God loves me and wants the best for me, therefore it is constant even in the midst of troubles.
    Happiness is fickle, one can be happy and not joyful. but one can’t be joyful and not happy.

  6. Akanna Okeke

    March 28, 2019 at 5:38 am

    Looks like we have the same leanings, Funmi. Not sure happiness is fickle, though. I’d say finding happiness in the wrong things is fickle as those (temporary) things are fickle in themselves.

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