Is Joy Possible in the Year 2024?

From the Editor in Chief

I’ve been thinking about the possibility of joy in 2024. I know it might be a long shot this year. The election cycle has most people feeling down. We are weary of ongoing war and rumors of war. We are regularly reminded of impending climate disaster. Inflation lingers. To top it off, we’ve been told that AI is coming for our jobs. Not exactly fertile soil for rejoicing.

It’s exactly for that reason that I wonder if joy, in a year like this one, has the potential to be the most countercultural aspect of God’s people. Our age is characterized by anger, resentment, fear, blame, and cynicism. So joy seems strange, or even inappropriate — at the very least, not fit for the seriousness of our predicament.

But joy is stealthy, carrying a secret power. After all, it exists at the center of God’s trinitarian relationship. It’s why C.S. Lewis called joy “the serious business of heaven.” Joy is potent, in its ability to speak to our deepest longings and as fuel for our greatest desires. Because joy is rooted in God, it is a persistent longing of all people.

Several years ago, Kearney conducted a study of people’s expectations and experience of joy at work. In the original 2018 study, 90 percent of employees expected to feel joy at work, but only 37 percent said they experienced a high level of joy at work, representing a “joy gap” of 53 percent. When Kearney conducted the study in 2021, that gap had grown to 61 percent. A lack of joy among employees is pervasive.

A lack of joy may also contribute to shoddy work. Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, once observed that the collective mood among his colleagues, journalists and those working in the media, was characterized by a weird nervousness and feigned seriousness. He remarked that when journalism is devoid of any joy and delight, it represents a “failure of craft,” because it doesn’t present a realistic experience of life.

Biblical joy is neither naive nor fleeting. Rather, it is realistic and persistent, less like a manic high, and more like a sustained undercurrent. We may understand how a person might experience constant, low-level anxiety, or persistent sorrow. Joy can have this same essence — lingering below the waterline of our lives.

Its expression may differ by individual temperament, but is not ultimately stifled or amplified by personality. It is not as if happy-go-lucky types are more joyful, while serious-minded, risk-averse individuals lack joy. It is not a byproduct of serotonin. Rather, we can intentionally cultivate it, no matter who we are.

Ross Gay, an English professor at the University of Indiana, took on the serious study of delight, and found that joy is not static, but can be experienced through sustained effort. For an entire calendar year, he paid close attention to the world and took note of his own joy, and captured these experiences as a series of short essays. The Book of Delights would quickly become a New York Times bestseller. Weary people are hungry to learn from those who have found joy.

Biblical joy is more than delight — it is wonderfully multifaceted. A look at joy in the various genres of Scripture makes this clear.

  • In the Torah, joy is tied to seasonal rhythms and habits, centered around communal feasts that celebrate God’s provision and faithfulness in all of life.
  • In the Psalms, joy is tied up with experiencing God’s presence, especially in celebratory worship — even the hills and trees are brought into the experience of joy.
  • In the prophets and apocalyptic literature, joy is a hope in the coming renewal of all things, even amidst severe devastation. It is anchored in the assurance of final deliverance and reward for faithfulness.
  • In the Gospels, joy is tied up with Jesus’ birth and his inbreaking kingdom, as well as Jesus’ return at the end of the age.
  • In the epistles, joy is relational — the experience of being with or reunited with close friends, and seeing the fruit of the gospel multiply in others.


Is joy possible in 2024? We might be inclined to say that possible is not the same as probable. But if we claim to follow Jesus, we must reckon with the commands of Scripture. “Rejoice in the Lord always” comes as an imperative. Here I am reminded of Augustine’s prayer, “Give what you command.” God, as the source of all joy, is also the giver of joy. His command can come as a gift, for his joy is also an invitation.

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