Speaking of Life

Independence Day

What's the difference between happiness and joy?

(3.7 minutes)
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Joseph Tkach

Joseph Tkach has been president of Grace Communion International since 1995. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Azusa Pacific University. For more information about him, click here.

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240 years ago on July 4, 1776, our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. In the preamble, Thomas Jefferson enumerated three inalienable rights given to mankind by their Creator – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Since then, Americans (and people all over the world) have struggled to define that last right – “the pursuit of happiness.” What does it mean? If you look around at advertisements and media, we’re bombarded with products and trinkets that are guaranteed to make us happy. But countless studies have shown that simply “consuming” things and experiences won’t bring lasting happiness. So what gives?

Recently Star Wars creator George Lucas attempted to wrestle with this very question. While speaking at an event, he explained that happiness is really made up of two different experiences: joy and pleasure. He defined pleasure as something that was fleeting, self-centered and focused solely on what a person can consume. He went on to say that pleasure alone was like a drug. You always needed a higher dose to achieve the same level of “happiness.” But joy is different. Lucas said that: “Joy is compassion. Joy is giving yourself to someone else or something else… it’s much more powerful than pleasure… And if you pursue joy, you will find everlasting happiness.”

In general terms, Lucas isn’t far from the kingdom, to echo Jesus. Identifying the serious limits and liabilities of pursuing pleasure is a message our society needs to hear. Joy is far more than what pleasure can deliver. But we need more than that. Notice Lucas doesn’t give us any clues as to the nature of a self-giving that would lead to joy. But I think I might be able to pick up where he left off. You see, biblical revelation, providentially, gives us a fuller picture. Jesus himself tells us to seek first the kingdom of God, the kingdom over which he is king. He directs us to give ourselves to him and to his particular kind of self-giving. The rest of the New Testament fills out many of the details of what this looks like in real life.

To be sure, those seeking first the kingdom are not called to seek fulfillment by consuming things of this earth, nor to try to find our identity or happiness in the latest car or video game. Instead, Christ has called us to a better, more full and rich life—a life under the gracious management of the Lord Jesus Christ, which leads to faith, hope and love, and a life under the direction of his Word and Spirit, which leads to joy, peace and purpose in him. We have been set free from dependence on the things of this world in order to love and serve him and one another in gladness and singleness of heart. On Independence Day, both here and abroad, I pray that as we’re exercising our God-given right to pursue happiness, we’ll remember that in Christ our lives are bound up with him. It is only through pursuing him that we will find joy everlasting.

I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.

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