If you experienced the beauty of 1990s-era campfire songs you will remember singing “Joy In My Heart” (more commonly called “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy”) at the top of your lungs. Written in 1925 by Minister George William Cooke, it’s the type of song you can’t stop singing once it gets stuck in your head. It was even given new life when Christian pop group for KING & COUNTRY sampled it in their 2018 hit “joy.”
As a child I spent a lot of time singing “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy” but didn’t take much time to consider the lyrics. In repetitive fashion it explains how joy exists down in our hearts and stays there along with the peace that passes understanding, the love of Jesus and freedom from condemnation.
Thinking about joy all these years later, the song comes back to mind and I’m experiencing the truth in these simple lyrics.
The difference between happiness and joy
We use the terms “happiness” and “joy” interchangeably these days but they’re not the same. Part of the confusion comes from the dictionary definition, which describes joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” This is true. Joy is a feeling, something that wells up from deep within our souls and can co-exist with our vastness of emotions and situations. However, joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is an emotion, something based on circumstances. It can be a by-product of joy, but it’s not joy itself.
Where does joy come from?
Perhaps some of our confusion comes from how we use the term “joy.” In our secular society, we attach joy to objects or possessions, as if they are a conduit for the feeling. A great example of this is Marie Kondo’s tidying philosophy, which includes asking whether or not a possession sparks joy when deciding whether to keep it or not.
The “Does it spark joy?” question, tagline, and movement explores what our possessions can do for us and our emotions. While we do attach sentiment to objects, they cannot give us true joy. C.S. Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy helps unpack the idea further, saying “All joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still about to be.”
The Christian virtue of joy, listed in Galatians 5:22, exists in our souls and is produced in us by the Holy Spirit, not by anything external or out of our own strength.
How to become joyful
If you ask someone with a secular understanding of joy how to become a joyful person, you’d receive tips like, “accept the good with the bad” and “spend time with happy people.” While there’s nothing wrong with this advice, it’s not quite deep enough for the true joy experience.
First Thessalonians 5:16 commands us to “always be joyful.” But how can we obey this when we can’t control our feelings? How can we actually be joyful always when we can’t create the feeling in a genuine, honest way? Well, short answer, we can’t except with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul attributes joy as a Fruit of the Spirit—a result of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Therefore, deep, lasting joy comes from a true relationship with God and from allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives so we bear the fruit of joy. It’s not something we can control or create in our own strength, but it is something we can experience.
What else does the Bible say about joy?
The Bible has a lot to say about joy and being joyful despite our circumstances. When life is hard and there’s not a lot to be happy about, reflecting on Bible verses about joy can make a positive difference.
Here are a few references about joy for further study.
- Nehemiah 8:10
- Philippians 3:1
- Philippians 4:12-13
- Romans 15:13
- James 1:2-8
- 1 Peter 1:8-9
- Psalm 16:11
- Ecclesiastes 9:7
- Proverbs 10:28
How to be a joyful person
When we understand that joy doesn’t come from our situations, from other people or from our emotions, we begin to grasp how joy is possible even when things aren’t going right.
When we’re able to focus on God’s ultimate sovereignty over our lives, we even see how joy is possible when we’re waiting to hear from the Lord and He seems silent. Because we know joy comes from our soul and is a work of the Holy Spirit, we can even be joyful when we’re bearing the consequences of poor decisions.
To be a joyful person we must stop allowing our circumstances to dictate who we are and how we feel. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can rise above our circumstances and focus our minds and hearts on the bigger picture.
Here are five things joyful people have in common
- They understand the difference between joy and happiness
- Every day they spend time praying and reading the Bible
- They trust and obey God
- Every day they practice gratitude
- They understand joy is a gift
Joy is one of those good feelings we’re always trying to achieve. But since it’s not something we can accomplish on our own, our time would be better spent focusing on our relationship with God and worshipping with all our hearts. And if “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy” isn’t for you there are some excellent alternatives on the airwaves these days.