A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:13
I have often wondered about this as a value or goal in life. Being happy is fine, but is it really biblical? There are only a few references to being happy in scripture, but by and large, it is not a strong biblical value. The Declaration of Independence which declared America free from England on July 4, 1776, granted three inalienable rights given to us by our Creator which include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Benjamin Franklin, one of the signers of the Constitution, sums it up this way: “The Constitution only gives you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it on your own.” While the framers of the Constitution actually articulated a public policy espousing happiness as a goal in 1776, this public policy has not gone away 250 years later.
Surprisingly, there is a strong “happiness movement” afoot today as a matter of public policy. Take this quote by Laura Musikanski in 2011 from the Journal of Social Change from Walden University: “The happiness movement represents a new paradigm where social, economic, and environmental systems are structured to encourage human well-being in a sustainable environment. Bhutan has adopted Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a way of determining its society’s success in contrast to purely economic goals and the singular use of the gross domestic product indicator. […] In the United Kingdom, happiness indicators are being used to collect data and the government is starting to explore their application to policy. The Bhutanese GNH policy screening tool has been adapted for the grassroots activists, providing opportunities for everyone to participate in the happiness movement.” Also, another essay in the same Journal describes how the governments of China, Spain, Norway, Canada and New Zealand are studying the development and use of subjective well-being indicators. I humbly suggest that the subjective “well-being indicators” exclude the presence or existence of faith in one’s life, but maybe that’s just me.
I’ve often wondered about that last right in our Bill of Rights– the pursuit of happiness – because in today’s world, it often gets misapplied to a “me” thing – what makes me happy is important, as opposed to what makes my Creator happy. If you are looking for your purpose in life, you will find out that it is “Not about you” as Rick Warren asserts in the first line of his book The Purpose Driven Life.
Being happy is an emotion – you can be happy, you can be sad and have lots of other emotions. So often though, what makes us happy is episodic, temporal and related to circumstances, or “happenings”. If your emotional state for happiness is based on happenings, what happens when your happenings happen to happen differently than you wanted them to happen? You might want to read that back a couple of times. Happiness is not a constant state, because, if you are like me, you know that things aren’t always hunky dory, or something that makes you laugh or happy. We are wired to generally want to feel good. I get that. But if happiness is your goal, then you want to live a life that is mess-free, shiny, perfect and easy. Anyone who strives for a mess-free life is looking for perfection which is destined to fail, so that goal is designed to lead people down a difficult, and yes, unhappy path. I always stayed away from any goals (in my professions or life) which required perfection. Excellence, yes, but not perfection. We all can realistically say that it is just not possible to be happy all of the time in life. If so, it will leave an unreasonable expectation that cannot be fulfilled.
I came across a quote from Vanessa Scotto who wrote that she stopped making happiness her goal. She writes: “Many of the most purposeful and memorable moments of our lives challenge us in unbelievable ways. We may feel energized. Inspired? Certainly. Enthused? Often. But happy? It’s simply not always the dominant state. Setting your sights at happiness won’t bring you the alive experience that you’re looking for.” I have to agree with her.
So, what is the better (and more biblical) value? I would suggest contentment and joy which can exist in all circumstances, good or bad. That’s not to say that being happy is not important, but contentment is a state which can exist regardless of your circumstances, good or bad. Take the verse above – can you be contented through heartache and happiness? James 1:2 exhorts us to “consider it pure joy [….] whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Note it does not say that the testing of your faith produces happiness, but we are to endure hardship with joy knowing that God is in control. Wow. I always think of this passage when bad things happen because it gives a long-view perspective on how we are to handle adversity.
Back to happiness and its concept as embedded in our culture which embraces it and basically tells you to do anything that you want “as long as it makes you happy.” As Vanessa Scotto notes, that leads to a slippery slope and near term thinking. The challenge is to seek contentment in all things that can include happy things. That’s a constant state, not just a temporal one. That’s what our Creator wants for us. As a mentor, I really don’t dwell on happiness as part of a mentee’s purpose in life. It’s too superficial and not realistic. Being truly happy is when your passions actions and life are consistent with one another.
FURTHER STUDY: Vanessa Scotto on Why I stopped making happiness my goal: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-9965/why-i-stopped-making-happiness-my-goal.html
Essays on happiness as part of public policy. http://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/jsc/vol6/iss1/5/
PHOTO: The happy girl in the photo is Sarah Fischer, one of my grandchildren, who, when asked recently what she liked about me, said she liked me because I made her laugh. That makes me both happy and contented. .
WORSHIP: Listen to Matt Redman sing Better is One Day where the line continues Better is One Day in Your Courts than Thousands Elsewhere: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4Fj9bbEmVk
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