The Christian life is one of inherent joy. Yet, the difference between our joy and our happiness is easily confused, because the one—happiness—is a fleeting experience that can very much be determined by the circumstances of life. The other—joy—is sustained in us by God’s love through the Holy Spirit, and it does not waver. Joy never ends.
The basis for joy is God’s love. How do we identify God’s love and keep that love in sight? The very act of the Incarnation of Jesus is the love of God brought directly to us. We keep the reality of the love of God, which is intrinsic to our Christianity, always in mind and heart. The story of our Christianity as it reaches its pinnacle in the Resurrection of Jesus tells us that God’s love is the way, and it is eternal. While all that is human may fail, love does not. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
God’s love is there by the power of the Holy Spirit and is independent of our human desire or efforts—just as the joy that results from God’s love is independent of our life’s circumstances. The ups and downs of life affect us if we’re happy today or tomorrow, but our joy is constant and unchanging, because we are loved by God. Happiness is akin to a changing emotion, whereas joy is an inner spirit that endures.
There are at least a few tangible ways to encounter and nurture the joy that emanates from God’s love, including through prayer, action, and gratitude.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice."
Prayer opens the heart to joy in the ultimate way, allowing us to receive the presence of God. We connect our mind, heart, and spirit with our Creator, and there we find peace and joy. Tears of pain may spill from our eyes over the circumstances of our lives even in the same moment we encounter God’s enduring joy.
Pursuing love in our thoughts—and pushing aside negativity—will invite the Holy Spirit to help us better love others. We’ll be guided to focus on what is good in others. We will understand emotions with the grace we receive through prayer and the calming of our less holy impulses. The result of our pursuit of love is steady joy.
Gratitude is the guiding energy that makes joy possible. To know God’s love, we must know our blessings. That awareness is poured out in thanksgiving to God. The more gratitude we attach to God, the more we will experience deep, abundant, overflowing joy.