Thoughts on Happiness
Have you ever struggled with how to be happy? Who hasn’t? It’s one of the deepest pursuits of life. I seem to find I obtain happiness through constantly striving to be and do more. When I consider this struggle, I think I am misguided. I feel like the “struggle” should be more about the feelings I attain through my day which occur through my tasks and interactions. I have often believed that I have to have a purpose to be happy. We all do. However, living a purposeful life and making meaning out of each hour of the day requires constructive (as opposed to destructive thoughts) which leads to our happiness on this earth. Since thoughts originate from feelings, it is imperative to look at what we do with the feelings which come and go through the day. If we have the contentment, joy, and happiness (which I feel to be synonymous), we will live more giving lives which what Jesus asks us to do in Matthew 28: 19 and that is to make disciples and build His kingdom. Isn’t being happy, then, a principled obligation to our fellow man?
So with this said, I would like to look at some lessons I have learned about the whole “Happiness” concept. It is important to differentiate between what is happiness and what is pleasure. Happiness is like love. It cannot be defined in a dictionary. Pleasure can be, however. Pleasure is short term, spikes of excitement which can come and go throughout the day. Many people seek pleasure only to find that it is futile and short-lived. In fact, many become addicted to the “feeling.” If we are guided by our “feelings” then we are in for major disappointment since feelings change as fast as the moment of the day. It has been said there are 20,000 moments in the day, ergo, it would be quite tiresome to let our feelings rule our moments. So perhaps happiness has to come from a habit of mind, and not a habit of feeling. This is to say, the use of our minds and intelligences is essential to achieving happiness.
Does it sound strange to say,” I am in pursuit of happiness?” Did God ever say that we are to be happy and that we are put on this earth to be happy?” I would surmise that that it is not our ‘purpose’ per se, but it is an obligation to be happy because this is what occurs when our focus is on God and His glorious gifts he gave to us undeserving souls. He did not have to pursue us to create a relationship with us, but The WORD exemplifies a tremendous love story between God and His human creation. He chose to save us and build in an opportunity to have a personal relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His son (He paid the sin price for all of us). That seems the first step to finding happiness: GRATITUDE. In that way, I do think God would like us to be happy. It is difficult to be unhappy if we are full of gratitude for our existence, no matter what our circumstances. I mean, we as humans, are forgiven! We are being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that one may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks. (Col 1:11)
Joy is discussed often in the Bible. Joy and contentment are great synonyms for happiness. “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24). How is this possible when human nature is to always be satisfied? Human nature is working constantly against us and this is the greatest obstacle to finding happiness. This is probably one of the primary reasons we need to have a relationship with God. He gives us the ABILITY and POWER (through the Holy Spirit) to battle our human nature. (“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” ) -John 3:5-7. It is not possible “by” ourselves to be happy although it has to come to us not from outside forces, but from the power of God “within” us. “But now I (Jesus) come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they (Us) may have My (Jesus) joy made full in themselves. (John 17:13).
This verse corroborates the point of not being able to seek it from another person or “event.” It must be sought from OUR work, not someone else’s work upon us.
So how can this be? Circumstances constantly change and life is hard. What happens to us when we fall victim to our feelings? If our feelings become thoughts, then we must have discipline to overcome the natural tendency to become deeply troubled. “And bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) This means it is a discipline or HABIT of the mind to extinguish a negative thought (which erupts from a negative feeling). It is not our hearts for which we can trust because our feelings are misleading. If we don’t do this, our thoughts potential become bad decision and sinful behavior. This IS part of the plan of God which again makes it a biblical concept, that we may not sin. In that case, happiness, being part of our disciplined mind’s activity, must be sought in order avoid sinful activities. The genesis of this has to come from an attitude which must be adopted.
This is why I argue for gratitude. Imagine, if we walk around with an attitude of gratitude? We avoid these pitfalls which inevitably steal and rip apart our joy and happiness.
The first one is the comparison game. Most of the comparisons we make are based on false assumptions of others. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “If only I looked like that” of “She has the perfect life” or “They have no problems.” The list is endless. It is totally in our imaginations because virtually all people put on some sort of mask when they are around others. If all people do this, then it is inevitable that others will make assumptions based on those masks. This is why it is so key to have intimate relationships with others. First, it enables you to talk out your misguided thought which then can become quenched once you realize we all have similar issues. Also, it allows us to become more real which in turn makes people want to be around us. No one likes to be around someone who is perfect and has no faults. It’s not reality!
The second one is IMAGES. Yes, comparing others is a form of image worship, but when we have it in our minds as to the expectation of what the “perfect” marriage is..or the “perfect” body..or the “Perfect” career”, we set ourselves up for failure. The only perfect person is Jesus. It is important to understand that hope is different than holding an idyllic image in our head. This is why being a follower of Christ, we know that this world brokenness and trouble does exist, but it won’t be “perfected” until we are glorified in Heaven and Jesus reigns supreme.
The third one is a “What is missing?” problem. Is it not so easy to focus on what is not there than to see what is? This is sabotages our happiness because there will ALWAYS be something missing. The “Most Important Thing” in our hearts changes like our feelings…constantly! Think about it. When you woke up this morning, you had your mind on the LATEST issue in your life. Two weeks later, you probably can’t even remember what that was but at the time it was MIT! With a grateful heart, we can deal with our issues but keeping a healthy perspective which says that it’s not as important as we may give it credit. Have you ever thought how much energy and time it takes for things to go RIGHT? Why don’t we celebrate those days. “Gosh, my body has not aches today!” or “My mom is alive and doing sell.” We maybe should look at what is “good” in our lives for a change instead of constantly seeking out what is not.
Finally, the opposite of gratitude is expectation. If we hold expectations or feel entitled constantly, it’s pretty impossible to be grateful. When we start to expect perfection from people, or when we feel certain things are “owed” to us, we basically lose control. That’s it and authority is handed over to others to make us happy. That means we are waiting on others (And GOD) to give us love, gifts…whatever.
Life is hard. It takes work. It takes discipline. But pursuing a habit of mind when feelings come along (which breed misery), we can actually control those feelings to be extinguished and focus back on the reality. This reality has to be an attitude of gratitude. This is not easy as life throws us punches which seem unfair. However, with a deep, personal, intimate relationship with God, (which has to stem from gratitude since (“He loved us so much that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall NOT perish but have eternal life”-John 3:16), we can actually take our feelings to God, ask for help in turning these feelings into constructive thoughts which lead to a closer relationship with Him. This does not mean a “Pollyanna” existence. It does mean acknowledging the feeling through the dilemma or issue, working through it with intimate friendships and with God, and creating a Habit Of Mind to remain content and happy through the storm.