We all want to be happy. We work at it. We strive for it. We know it when we have it, and we know when we are not happy. It seems so elusive sometimes. We often seek it in the wrong places. We run to substitutes for happiness that often make us feel even more unhappy. The drug addict thinks his next fix will make him happy. The materialist thinks his next purchase will make him happy. The hedonist thinks his next sensual experience will make him happy.
We think achieving the next goal will do it. We thought a corner office or a VP title would do it, but it didn’t, so we strive for even higher success. How much money does it take to be happy, we wonder? Whatever it is, it is probably more than we have, even if we are Christina Onassis.
What does the Bible say about being happy? Quite a lot it turns out. The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for happy is esher. The Greek word in the New Testament is makarios. Both words are also translated “blessed.” The person who feels blessed is happy.
The Bible tells us in numerous places, “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord” (Ps 144:15, Dt 33:29, 1 Kg 10:8, 2 Chron 9:7, Job 5:17; Ps 128:2, Ps 146:5, Pr 16:20). Happy is the man who obeys God and keeps His commands. Happy is the man who is corrected by God. It is proof of our legitimacy as sons and daughters. Happy is the man who cares for the poor. Happy is he who loves God more than money, power, prestige or the praises of men. Happy is the servant whom the Master finds doing as he was told when that Master returns.
Underneath all of these “beatitudes” can be found the basic happiness principle. Happiness comes from being God’s friend, from obedience to His commandments, from trusting in the Lord. Trying to find happiness anywhere else is a fool’s errand.
We usually make the mistake of thinking that happiness is related somehow to our circumstances. We think if our circumstances get better, we will be happy. Happiness has absolutely nothing to do with circumstances. Two people with identical circumstances can have vastly different levels of happiness. Someone asks you, “How are you doing today?” Your reply, “Not bad under the circumstances.” The trick is not to live under the circumstances. The Bible calls upon us to live happy regardless of the circumstances. Paul tells us it is our inheritance as Christians to be happy always.
Phil 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NASB
The peace of God is unrelated to circumstances. It makes no earthly sense but is rather a heavenly result of an act of obedience; i.e., to rejoice in the Lord always. Happiness is a decision and the result of a decision. Paul rejoiced over the fact that his people were becoming strong even though he himself was weak. His happiness did not depend on his circumstances.
2 Cor 13:9-10 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete (fulfilled). NASB
Phil 2:17-18 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. NASB
Jesus tells us that we should be happy in the midst of our persecution. He is not encouraging us to be masochistic. He is encouraging us to be masters over our feelings. He is telling us to walk by faith rather than by feelings.
Matt 5:11-12 “Blessed (Happy) are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. NASB
Jesus is telling us to rejoice in our eternal relationship with God, not in our earthly circumstances.
Luke 10:20 “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” NASB
When I was pouting as a child, my father would say, “If you are happy, let your face know it!” Happiness is, after all, a feeling, and it is a feeling we can manage. It is very subjective. As we said before, two people can have identical situations. One is happy and the other is not. The story is told of twin boys who both got a room full of Christmas presents. One was a pessimist and the other was an optimist.
The pessimist looked into his room and saw dozens of toys, things he had wanted to receive. After his initial excitement, he began to be depressed. “Soon,” he said, “these will all be broken!” The optimist looked into his room and saw that it was full of hay. “Wow!” he said. “With this much hay there is bound to be a pony in here somewhere.”
From the doorway looking in, they had already formed an opinion about how they were going to relate to the circumstances they encountered. One boy had a bias for depression. The other boy had a bias for happiness. No matter how many toys or how much hay they encountered, they made a pre-decision for or against happiness.
When we go to Africa, we see children with little or nothing. And yet, they are happy. Food, shelter, clothing and safety is all they need. They eat rice, corn and vegetables every day. They get a spoonful of meat twice a month. They live in a dorm room with dozens of other children and sleep in a bed made of wooden planks. They keep their belongings in a small metal box. They wear clothes donated from the west often bearing logos they do not understand; e.g., UCONN, Georgia bulldog, Coke, Apple. They have no clue what they mean, but they like the colors and are thrilled to have the clothing.
They know they are safe from molestation, theft and violence. They are some of the happiest kids you will ever see. No selfish grabbing. No fighting. No crying. No pouting. They are HAPPY!!! They feel blessed. Our western children who go with us are amazed and come back changed. At least for a while, they realize that happiness is unrelated to having “stuff.” On the “STUFF” scale, one person has a 4 and is happy. Another person has a 94 and is miserable. Having stuff is not a determinant of happiness, but perspective about stuff is a big determinant of happiness.
So one component of happiness is perspective. Paul tells us that he is happy even though he is often in difficulty. He tells the Corinthians that he has a “treasure” even in the midst of his difficult life. That treasure is available to us also and it includes happiness.
2 Cor 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. NASB
Paul goes on to talk a bit more about his difficulties which he calls “momentary light afflictions.” He chooses to have an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one. He focuses his feelings and his sense of well-being on things he cannot see rather than things that are going on in his circumstances; i.e., things he can see in this world. He controls his perspective and, therefore, he controls his happiness.
2 Cor 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. NASB
Heb 11:1-2Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. NASB
Abraham left a fortune, a community and a city he could see with his eyes and followed the voice of God whom he could not see to find a city he could not see, except by faith. This faith drove his behavior, his attitude and his happiness, and because of that, Abraham was considered rightly related to God. So it is with all Christians who make a faith-based decision to be happy in God.
Heb 11:9-11 By faith he (Abraham) lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. NASB
James 2:22-24 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works (his actions), faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. NASB
Heb 11:16 But as it is, they (true Christians) desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city (a dwelling place) for them. NASB
Heb 13:14-15 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. 15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. NASB
What we focus on and the perspective we embrace concerning our circumstances determine our happiness. We reflect this thinking when we tell people to “count their blessings,” rather than counting their misfortunes. We reflect this thinking when we talk about the glass being half full versus half empty. Happiness is determined by perspective, not by circumstances. Happiness is a decision.
Another component of happiness is contentment. The world, the flesh and the devil are delivering a constant message that we should want more than what we have. While it is sometimes valid to want more, it is never valid to base our happiness on it. Even when we perceive a legitimate need for more, we are called to be content with what we have until “more” arrives.
Phil 4:11-12 I do not speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. NASB
1 Tim 6:7-10 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. NASB
Heb 13:5-6 Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” 6 so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” NASB
The world is constantly calling us to consume, to hoard and to store up for ourselves for the future. God is sending us a clarion message to downsize, to share generously and to trust in Him always for provision. Wesley preached a doctrine of simple living. He instructed his people to “earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.” Wesley made “big” money in his day, but gave 90+% away annually. As a successful author of tracts and books and a good business man, he often earned in his day what is estimated to be analogous to our six figure incomes. Yet when he died, he left the equivalent of about $87.
He encouraged his people to be prosperous, but be content so they could be generous. He instructed his churches to avoid debt. He called for simple white clapboard church buildings with no pipe organ or stained glass windows. The doctrine of simple living was a call to contentment as a means of happiness and as a scenario that allows us to be in constant ministry and service to those around us.
But can we trust God to provide, to meet us at our point of need, and to deliver us from evil. We say that God is good all the time and all the time God is good. Do we really believe that? Do we trust God to bless us in every situation, good or bad? We are trusting Him to wake us from the dead when we die. Why not trust Him in lesser things? The Bible that promises us resurrection also promises us a “peace that passes comprehension.” In for a penny, in for a pound, right? So we see that another component of happiness is trust in God that He is good all the time and all the time He is good.
God asks us to commit to one another “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, etc.” Will He not Himself commit to at least that level of faithfulness? CS Lewis once remarked that all sin stems from the sneaking suspicion that God is not good. We say God is good, but do we believe it? Happiness derives from trusting God; i.e., faith.
David was a real man with real human feelings. He often wrote about his enemies treating him unjustly and his friends betraying him. He wrote about persecution and difficulty. But David always regained his perspective by remembering (often in writing) “but Thou O Lord, art God.” When David focused on his problems, he struggled to be happy. When David focused on God’s majesty, His Glory and His sovereignty over all things, David found himself at rest with his circumstances, satisfied and happy.
Ps 37:9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait (trust in) upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. KJV
Ps 59:10 My God in His lovingkindness will meet me; God will let me look triumphantly upon my foes. NASB
Ps 145:15-16 The eyes of all look to Thee, and Thou dost give them their food in due time. 16 Thou dost open Thy hand, and dost satisfy the desire of every living thing. NASB
David’s written testimony, the Psalms, teaches me how to deal with adversity. Whenever I get myself in a mess, I quickly move to agree with David. “There is a God in Heaven, and He has got me in the shadow of His wings!” My God is a good God, a loving Father who will ensure that I am okay in the larger scheme of things. God will use my circumstances for His purposes and my good.
My history with Him tells me that I can trust Him. It was not easy when He enrolled me in “5th, grade,” “6th grade,” “7th grade, etc.” but it proved to be wisdom in the end. My God is wiser than I am and He knows what is best. He is all-powerful and I am safe. I am happy that my Friend, God, is by my side. I can relax and enjoy the journey.
Isaiah tells us that God is dependable and that those who trust Him will soar on wings of eagles.
Isa 40:28-31 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. 29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the LORD (trust in) will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary. NASB
The fact is, problems look smaller from 30,000 feet. As Christians, we are “seated with Christ in heavenly places.” Understanding that should shape our perspective concerning issues of this world.
Eph 2:4-7 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. NASB
Eph 1:18-23 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. NASB
Paul wrote the Ephesians to tell them that they had a great inheritance in Jesus and that they should live in it. Part of that inheritance is that God has given us the right and the grace to be happy in all things. Our God reigns. We have won. We should dwell on that.
I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I do not have to let them change me. Whatever they are, they are momentary and light in comparison with my overall trajectory in God. If I will focus on that which is unseen (God’s grace towards me), I will soon become oblivious to that which is seen (my difficulties). If God cannot deliver me out of the furnace, He will meet me in the furnace like he did Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. My happiness is based on my relationship with God which is unwavering and eternal, not on my circumstances which come and go.
So, in summary, happiness is a decision. It is unrelated to my circumstances. Its components include: perspective, contentment and trust. Happiness does not depend on “stuff.” Happiness, like most good things, is dependent on our relationship with God.
James 2:22-24 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. NASB*