Three years ago when I came to Tennessee, I had little hope of experiencing anything other than a life tainted by anxiety. I had no idea God would teach me to live a life highlighted with joy and happiness instead.
But to my own surprise, as I write this, I am truly happy. Happy because I am living in the now. Because I am reflecting on my gratitude. Because I have surrendered my struggles (at least for the moment). Because I know I am valuable. Because I know I am part of something bigger. The list goes on…
Notice that each one of these reasons is based on a condition. And these happy conditions have the opportunity to grow into feelings of tremendous joy and gratitude.
Would you be surprised to know this kind of happiness is available to all of us at any time?
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can find sustained happiness merely in physical things. I am not saying that happiness should be our ultimate goal in this life.
saying that it is possible to find happiness in almost every situation.
Reconciling Happiness & Joy
Happiness has gotten a bad reputation among Christians. So much so, I feel it appropriate to discuss how – and why – I feel happiness is worthy of being sought every day. Afterward, I’ll give eight practical tips to create more happiness.
I assure you, I do not promote the search for happiness in lieu of joy, but rather in conjunction with it.
Perhaps it is this C.S. Lewis quote that started the negative view of happiness:
“And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I’ve read that happiness is a path for the wicked. You can get lost seeking happiness. It is fleeting and selfish. We are encouraged to strive for joy instead because joy is based on a fixed, timeless truth, and therefore endless.
What is more timeless and fixed than God? His grace is eternal. His love is endless. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross made it possible for anyone who believes to experience both eternal grace and endless love. Knowing we are free from punishment for our sins absolutely brings joy.
I sought this joy. I found this joy. I was grateful for it. I was relieved by it. But still, I was not happy. Feeling angry, grumpy and disappointed came far too easily.
I wondered what could be wrong with me. Shouldn’t I be fixed? Shouldn’t the joy of the gospel sustain me? I tried to reconcile joy and happiness and found myself mulling over the C.S. Lewis again, this time in conjunction with the Bible and Miriam-Webster Dictionary.
First, Lewis: If you look carefully, Lewis is not insisting there is anything inherently wrong with happiness. The danger arises when we expect happiness can be purchased or derived from outside God.
Next, the dictionary: Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines happiness as “feeling pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc.” It implies a particular situation or event must occur for happiness to exist. Therefore, happiness – at it’s root – is conditional.
Finally, the Bible: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (New English Standard Bible)
Here is my conclusion on the subject:
If happiness is based on circumstance and all circumstances are filtered by God to work together for my good, it follows that happiness can be found in all circumstances because they are gifts from God.
Mind blown. Happiness redeemed.
Of course, these are my musings. I’d love to hear your thoughts on happiness vs. joy. Leave them in the comments – I’m open to discussion!
In the mean time, here are some practical things you can do to increase your happiness:
1. Stop putting conditions on your happiness! I spoke about this in my last article, so I won’t go into too much detail. Basically, if you expect that happiness will come as a result of something in the future, you are cutting yourself short on happiness! You can get the full article here!
2. Start by focusing on the present. Life is a series of present moments (and circumstances that have had God’s hand on them). All you have is now. Focus and engage in the present moment. Stop letting the past and future take up your head space.
Having trouble? Try focusing on the 5 senses. Taste the food you are chewing. Feel the fabric against your skin. Inhale the smells of the room. Examine the contents of the room you are in without judgement. Listen to sounds around you. Try not to react, just experience.
3. Be grateful for your circumstances. There is always something you can be grateful for. You can be grateful for something as simple as your 5 senses. You can be grateful for something as complex as your enemy.
How is this done? The key is to look at every situation from the big picture. In business they might call this “helicopter thinking.” You stop focusing on the challenges and the pain immediately in from of you and you look at the bigger picture. A picture that God might see from His heights.
I know every peak is surrounded by valleys. Even great times that might appear as mountain chains on my journey, have been surrounded by valleys. Without the valley you cannot have the peak and vice versa. To be grateful for one, means being grateful for the other.
So when I am in that valley I ask – what can I learn from this? How can I be grateful for what this experience is teaching me?
Gratitude yields an attitude of abundance. Every time.
4. Be grateful for what you don’t have. If you are like every other person in the world, you know it is easy to get tunnel vision and focus on what is right in front of you. What about what you don’t have? More specifically, the struggles you don’t have.
Today, I don’t have Ebola! Hallelujah! Today, I don’t have to drink dirty water. Praise God! Today, I don’t have two hands! Thank you, Jesus! (…and that’s not a typo)
Like negative space in a drawing, gratitude for what you don’t have can be easily overlooked, but it brings the rest of the picture into perspective.
5. Know your true value.
By the way, your true value = priceless. PRICELESS. Let that sink in a minute.
Do you remember the great sacrifice of Mother Theresa? You are just as valuable as her.
Do you admire the teachings of the Dali Llama? You are as valuable as he.
Do you find yourself in awe of the great wisdom of Solomon? You are as valuable as he.
Do you envy Moses’ close relationship with God? You are a valuable as he.
The impact you have had on this world may seem smaller, your contributions seem less widespread, but your value does not lie in these things. In fact, your value does not even lie within your actions. You could not make yourself more valuable, even if you never stopped trying from now until infinity.
Hold onto that. If you are priceless to the creator of the universe, any other value placed on you will seem misplaced, silly and inconsequential.
6. Discover what makes you happy and do more of it. (duh!)
God places the desires for fun in our hearts as a gift. There is a time for fun, because there is a time for everything under the sun (check out Ecclesiastes).
But fun and happiness does not always happen by chance. You have to go out and find it. And then you have to make time or it.
Here’s a list of suggestions for fun time in case your forgot what that looks like:
Painting, hiking, teaching, encouraging, singing, dancing, listening to music, playing music, reading, walking running, collecting, writing, pottery, poetry, board games, tell jokes, just be silly!
These all have great potential! Just make sure you do them in moderation. Too much of a good thing is still too much. Following your heart feel-good happiness all of the time will spoil your appreciation for it. Or you will become fixated on it and create an addiction. Or you will simply miss out on other opportunities.
Moderation in all things.
7. See yourself as part of a bigger story. The Bible may be written and complete, but God’s love story for His children continues every day. He is relentlessly pursuing those He loves.
He is also relentlessly giving His children opportunities to be a part of His story. Often times, our own messy stories can be redeemed in the process of living out His story.
Where you are may be right where God wants you – maybe its for you, maybe its for someone else. No matter what, seek to glorify God wherever you are and you’ll experience the happiness and joy of being part of the most important love story in the universe.
8. Help someone else. Focusing entirely on your own happiness is like looking at life out of one eye – your perspective is thrown off. By helping others, you are rewarded by their smile, their hope, their gratitude. Happiness comes full circle when you know you have improved the conditions (or circumstances) of another person’s life.
An easy way to share some happiness, is to share this article right now. Keep the happiness moving onward! One small act can have ripple effects for years. Don’t hesitate to spread joy & happiness today.