In a world deeply fragmented by religion, class, ethnic/racial tensions, linguistic divides, disparities in wealth, unequal access to education, and basic health and safety resources, what do we all share?
We all want to be happy.
Happiness is so important to us as Americans that it is actually in our Declaration of Independence. As you know, it states that among other things, we as Americans are "endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
People today are talking about happiness like never before. Many studies have been done on happiness. There are college courses taught on the subject. And an article in Psychology Today pointed out that in 2000, there were 50 books written on happiness, but just a few years later, there were 4,000 books written on the topic and growing.
What is Happiness?
Happiness is a warm puppy. – Charles Schulz, of Charlie Brown fame.
Is happiness that simple? No, it is much more complex.
Psychologists define happiness as an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction. The ancient philosopher Aristotle suggested that happiness is the one human desire, and all other human desires exist as a way to obtain happiness.
Though people may say they want to be happy, if they do not understand that true happiness depends on the wisdom that comes from within rather than possessions that come from without, they carry around a counterfeit notion of what we all truly want. They are self-deceived, having turned away from what truly makes them happy to follow a dead-end path that may temporarily please but will ultimately fail. Think of food, sex, and thrill, for we only want these over and over again. Long-term satiety is beyond their reach. I would characterize it as having what you want when you want it, and in the amount that you want it, understood in material terms often focused on money, sex, and power (recognizing that money and sex are about power).
The Bible talks about happiness as well, but it defines it in an altogether different way than our culture does. When we read the word "happiness" in the Bible, it is speaking of something self-contained. In other words, you can experience happiness regardless of your circumstances. The happiness the Bible advocates does not come from what you have. It isn't dependent on whether things are going well. It comes from who you know. And the "who" I am referring to is the Lord himself.
Here is a surprising thing though: Most of us never decide to be happy. Sure, circumstances can be truly awful, but feeling happy is a choice just like any other. It is not that we don't want to be happy, we just get distracted by so many unhappy things. We need not worry about these things. "Fear not" is in the Bible 365 times, one for every day.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:34 NIV
Think of this, a child makes 10 percent of the decisions an adult makes in a given day. Maybe one of the benefits of the childlike faith Jesus said we need is that there are fewer decisions to make and therefore fewer distractions to manage. Perhaps we should take a lesson from the children around us: get fully engrossed in something lasting that we care about, eliminate some of the decisions we make, and find our joy again. People who are happy and filled with joy get a lot more accomplished than people who aren't.
If you choose happiness and joy, then kindness and empathy, and engagement are the outcomes. Christian happiness is the grace of loving and being loved by Jesus who gave his life for me. That to me is the sum and summit of it all.
God is going to do inexplicably, wildly, unfathomably more than you have ever seen or imagined. If that doesn't make you feel happy and joyful, you need a sundae.