What Is Joy?

By Sheila Seifert
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Try these ideas to help teach your children the true nature of joy

The book of Psalms is full of joyful statements, often created amid difficult circumstances.

Although happiness and joy can be present at the same time, happiness is based on material things or events, such as when a person is given a gift, graduates from college or celebrates a birthday.

Joy, on the other hand, is from God and runs deeper — it can be present even during unhappy times. Do you have God’s joy?

What are you worth?
The world ascribes value to what people own — salary, wealth, power, appearance and fame. As a Christian, you are worthy because Jesus is worthy. God’s love has made you important to Him. Without having to prove yourself, you are free to enjoy your life, no matter your circumstances.

What is important to you?
How you spend your time — reading the Bible, praying, watching TV, playing video games — reveals what is important to you. Reevaluate your actions, and then find behaviors that will cause you to grow closer to God. Growing closer to God is a source of joy.

How big is your God?
When good things happen, you may give God credit for it. When bad things happen, you may feel God has turned His back on you. In Psalms, read how David turned toward God amid crises and was rewarded with joy. Joy comes from knowing God, enjoying what God has done for you and believing that He constantly cares for you.

Do you want your children to catch your joy?
The best way to teach joy is to demonstrate it. If you are obsessed with keeping dirt out of the house or buying things to fill rooms, your children will notice. In the same way, if His joy permeates your life, they will learn to be joyful through your example.

Memory Verse

Romans 15:13


Nehemiah 8:10
Psalm 5:11, 21:6, 30:11, 118:24, 126:3
Proverbs 15:30
Isaiah 12:3, 51:11
John 16:24
Galatians 5:22-23.

Preschool activity

Use a puppet and this skit to teach your child about joy.

Puppet: I give up! I can’t do it!
Parent: What’s the matter?

Puppet: I can’t keep smiling.
Parent: Why are you trying to smile?

Puppet: I want to be happy all the time!
Parent: Happiness comes and goes. It’s a feeling. Instead of trying to smile and be happy, why don’t you ask God for His joy?

Puppet: Will joy make me smile all the time?
Parent: No. You can have God’s joy when you smile and when you’re sad. It comes from knowing God loves you.

Puppet: How do I keep His joy even when bad things happen?
Parent: Pretend you’re upset because I won’t give you a cookie.

Puppet: That would upset me.
Parent: To feel God’s joy, think about one way God is good to you.

Puppet: God put me in this family so you can take care of me.
Parent: That’s right! Now pretend the rain has spoiled our family’s picnic.

Puppet: Plop! Plop! Plop! It’s raining. (Pause) God made puddles for me to splash.
Parent: Good. (Name of your child), can you help (name of puppet) and me come up with more reasons to say thank You to God? (Have puppet shout words of encouragement each time your child thanks God for something.)


  1. Does joy make you smile all the time? (No)
  2. Can you have joy during hard times? (Yes)
  3. What is one way to be joyful when bad things happen? (Tell how God is good to you.)
  4. What is joy? (Joy is knowing God loves you.)
—Andrea Gutierrez and Sheila Seifert

School-age activity

Teach your children about joy: Wrap small amounts of money in individual packages, and give one to each child. Encourage them to guess what’s inside. After they unwrap it, help them consider how they will use the money — tithe, save and spend. Then remind them to say thank you.

Explain how God gives people His joy — a daily offering. Ask children to look at joy as a gift.

Anticipate it. Discuss what kinds of gifts God wants to give them.

Unwrap it. Explain how prayer and reading the Bible are ways they can receive joy. Knowing that they are God’s children, that He loves them and that He wants what is best for them brings joy.

Use it. Joy is not happiness but can be in them at all times — during easy as well as difficult days. They can share it with others because God is the provider. Children can show joy through good attitudes, helpfulness and thankfulness.

Thank the Giver. Remind children to tell God “thank You” for daily giving them His joy.


  1. What did we compare to joy? (Wrapped gift)
  2. People can only have happiness during good times. When can you have joy? (During good and bad times)
  3. What is one way to be joyful when good or bad things happen? (Thank God for the good things He has given you and remember He loves you.)
  4. How do you share joy with others? (Through good attitudes, helpfulness and thankfulness.)

—Sheila Seifert

Tween Activity

To teach your children about one aspect of joy, declare one Saturday as New Day. On this day, everything they do should be new. Instead of getting dressed the way they usually do, have them put on their clothing out of order or on backward. For breakfast, serve lunch, and then read them a bedtime story. Continually change things that happen in a normal day so that tweens are anticipating how they will complete their chores and other routine activities.

Some ideas for helping the day feel new to your kids are to walk backward, comb their hair with their arms interlocked, turn a book upside down and try to read it, eat breakfast foods for lunch, picnic at the side of the house, have a laughing contest during rest time, sing a song in reverse, enter the house only by the back door, etc. Perhaps set a timer, and every hour do something different together.

The next day, explain that God’s joy allows people to see everyday things in a new way and even enjoy activities that we don’t necessarily like. Remind them that they can have God’s joy in all they do because God’s love for them brings joy.


  1. What does God have for you every day? (God offers His joy every day.)
  2. How should you react to all you have to do each day? (You should rejoice in it and be glad.)
  3. How does God help you enjoy your day? (You do not know what the day will bring, but you do know that God will direct your steps.)
  4. How can a difficult day be a gift from God? (God will use all things, good and bad, for your good. You can find joy in that.)

—Sheila Seifert

Talking With Your Teens

The story of C.S. Lewis’ courtship and marriage to Joy Davidman was romanticized in the 1993 Oscar-nominated movie Shadowlands. The pair married in a civil ceremony in 1956 so Joy could keep her British residency; almost a year later, they held a church-sanctioned ceremony.

Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy was published in 1955, a year before his civil wedding and two years before his church-sanctioned ceremony. Only after the death of his wife and the publication of A Grief Observed did readers make the “Joy” connection between his wife and this book.

Surprised by Joy was not about Lewis’ spouse. It’s a spiritual biography about the nature of joy, which played a leading role in his conversion from atheism to Christianity. Lewis based the title on a William Wordsworth sonnet.

In his intellectual journey, Lewis expanded the concept of joy to capture and explain his inner longings for God that are universally experienced. He concluded that the reconnection to God and a glimpse of what is eternal exceeded everything else in life.


Consider reading Surprised by Joy as a family to understand one man’s vulnerability to God’s joy. Even if you don’t, discuss the following with your teen:

  1. How is joy different from happiness? (Since teens may see joy as a surface motion, such as happiness, discuss how happiness is dependent on external circumstance and joy isn’t. Joy is a gift from God and can be present even during difficult times.)
  2. Who is the most joyful person you know and why? What are some outward signs of joy in that person’s life?
  3. Discuss how a positive outlook and encouraging words are sometimes an extension of God’s joy. Emphasize that people who try to force themselves to be happy all the time do not necessarily have God’s joy.
  4. How can the power of God’s joy change your life? (Brainstorm ways that God’s joy can bring hope and peace to your and your teen’s life.)

—Sheila Seifert

“What is Joy?” © 2010 by Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Sheila Seifert photo
Sheila Seifert

Sheila Seifert is the editorial director of parenting content for Focus on the Family magazine, the author of over 20 books and the founder of Simple Literature.

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