Joy is not the same as happiness. While superficially they may seem synonymous, joy is profoundly different from happiness. Unlike feeling happy, being joyful is not a transitory emotional state but something much deeper than that.
This difference is why the Christmas caroler sings not “Happiness” to the world, but “Joy.” The Lord has come.
C.S. Lewis discussed the deeper significance of joy in his writings, especially in his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy. “Joy,” he wrote,
must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again … I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.
The Psalms often speak of joy, and sometimes amid unhappy circumstances; e.g., “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5); “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” (Psalm 126:5).
The New Testament writers often found joy alongside patient endurance. Those are two of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3), and Paul sought “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:11).
Outside of the Christian perspective, joy is a state of being that needs to be cultivated through gratitude, through charity, through thinking outside of oneself. It isn’t based on external, fleeting circumstances. More to the point, it can’t be. Chasing joy by seeking temporary enjoyments is the foundation for dangerous addictive behaviors or an endless series of disappointments.
Given this understanding, Gov. Roy Cooper’s remarks at his press briefing April 6 were all the more bizarre. It went beyond his standard propaganda about masks and his fatuous economics, which is saying something:
We have to encourage each other to get vaccinated. If you know a loved one or a friend who’s hesitant, make sure you talk with them about why it’s so important, effective and safe. It’s the key to saving lives and moving us forward, and we all know that the most common side effect is pure joy. I’ve seen that relief and sparkle in people’s eyes at every vaccination clinic that I’ve visited. We are so close and every day counts. Every time we wear a mask makes a difference. Every person who gets a shot makes our whole state safer and healthier and helps move our economy forward.
Does anyone outside of politics talk like this? Actually, never mind. I don’t want to know.