What Is Joy?

Reflections on Joy

We live in a society where people are searching for happiness. But happiness is elusive. Merriam-Webster defines happy as: “Favored by luck or fortune, fortunate.”

What Is Joy?In his book, The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham recounts the following story,
“I once heard of a man who went to see a psychiatrist. He told the doctor that he was lonely, despondent, and miserable.  He begged the doctor to help him. The psychiatrist suggested that he needed to laugh so he instructed the patient to attend the circus and watch the clown who was famous for being able to make anyone laugh. His patient looked him in the eyes and said, ‘But Doctor, you don’t understand! You see I am that clown!’”

It appears that happiness is difficult to find and impossible to keep, whereas joy is a gift from God—one that we can’t lose unless we choose to1. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives2.

Joy Isn’t an Option

For followers of Jesus, joy is not an option. We’re instructed to rejoice always! Writing to the Philippians, Paul tells his readers, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” Our circumstances and emotions can change from day to day, even minute to minute, so how can we maintain a constant attitude of joy? I’m tempted to ask if it’s even possible.

A few verses later Paul continues, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” I know what I think about and focus on does influence my mood and how I feel. So I’m careful about what I watch and listen to.

Certainly, it’s easier to rejoice some days than others, but deliberately bringing to mind the things I’m grateful for can really help. As well as remembering what the Lord Jesus has done for me.

Joy Is Contagious

Joy is infectious! When we’re around happy people, we really do ‘catch’ their joy. A study by researchers at Harvard and MIT documented the spread of happiness (and sadness too) as absolutely contagious, spreading in ways very similar to the flu virus. More recent studies reveal that our brains tend to mirror the brains of those around us.

Even a friendly smile can lift someone’s spirits. Proverbs 15:30 tells us “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart; good news makes for good health.” I know an encouraging word, a listening ear, an expression of empathy or even a warm smile can go a long way to helping me when I’m having a tough day.

Jesus Promised Us Joy

He not only promised us joy, He prayed for it, asking His Father to give us His joy.

Shortly before He was crucified, Jesus promised His disciples, “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy1.” He realized they’d be devastated and wanted to give them hope to see beyond their pain. He knew that three days later they’d experience immense joy—a joy that no one could take from them.

Jesus’ words here are every bit as much a promise for us today. But sometimes, without even realizing it, I give away that joy. Other people’s emotions, what I read, watch or listen to can steal it. It’s subtle; I usually don’t realize it’s happening at the time—just find myself feeling sad, empty or angry. Then I need to stop and turn my focus back to the Lord Jesus and the joy that’s ultimately waiting for me.

Joy Can Weather Storms

True joy isn’t diminished by trouble. But our first response when facing hardships isn’t usually to rejoice. Yet the Bible tells us in the letter from James “… when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.3

We can’t always avoid trouble—it’s part of life. And we certainly don’t usually choose difficulties. But we can choose our response—whether we allow trouble to upset or crush us, or we use it to our advantage.

The Message Bible translates the passage above this way, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

After all, whether we buckle under the pressure of trouble or decide to rejoice, it probably won’t change the circumstances, but it can change us.

Joy Is Genuine

Joy is not simply putting on a smile and faking it. Nor is it something we can work up on our own. So what is joy? It’s a supernatural gift based on my relationship with a loving, unchanging and faithful God.  In contrast to happiness, joy isn’t dependent on luck, feelings or circumstances.

1 John 16:22
2 Galatians 5:22
3 James 1:2-4

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