During my twenties, I was a bridesmaid in several weddings. Unfortunately, most of those couples are now divorced. It will come as no surprise to you that each of them stated they were unhappy and they were getting a divorce in order to find happiness. After all, happiness is the American birthright, right?
The United States Declaration of Independence says, in part, the following:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
But what does our Creator actually say about happiness? Let's take a look in the Bible.
Peter wrote to struggling disciples and said: "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed" (1 Peter 3:14 NIV). The King James Version, the version that I grew up reading, has the word "happy" instead of "blessed." I'm not sure our culture would accept either understanding, blessed or happy, in the face of suffering.
Of course Peter and the apostles had already demonstrated they could face unjust threats and suffering with joy, happiness, and a sense of being blessed. Early in their ministry, Peter and the apostles left the same Jewish ruling council that sentenced Jesus to death "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (Acts 5:41). Jesus' brother, James, wrote:"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." (James 1:3 NIV).
Suffering doesn't seem like something that would make anyone happy, feel blessed, and be the occasion for joy.
After giving it some thought to this seeming contradiction, I believe there is a difference in happiness and pleasure. What we call happiness is in reality pleasure. Pleasure lasts for a moment and then is gone. Happiness is the contentment and peace of God regardless of our circumstances:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7 NIV).
For example, I love pralines and ice cream. I might even say eating ice cream makes me happy. Yet in reality, it's just a delightful moment of yummy pleasure. Many people who think they are pursuing happiness are actually only chasing temporary pleasure.
True happiness cannot be found in momentary pleasures, that's for sure. Have you ever said or thought any of the following things?
I can't be happy unless my house is clean.
I can't be happy unless I have X number of dollars in the bank.
I can't be happy as long as I am married to my spouse.
I can't be happy if my children don't behave as I expect them to act.
I can't be happy as long as I have this job.
Our happiness rests on our own shoulders.
So often people throw away their chance at true happiness by focusing on the temporary pleasures of the world.
The book of Proverbs says this about happiness:
Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he (Proverbs 16:20 KJV).Happy is the man that feareth [God] always (Proverbs 28:14 KJV).He that kept the law, happy is he (Proverbs 29:18 KJV).He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he (Proverbs 14:21 KJV).
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that if I'm unhappy then I should do whatever it takes to make me happy. In fact, when we read those Proverb verses, the secret to happiness, the way to a blessed life, and formula for a heart full of joy is to place our focus on God and others, not on ourselves.
No one wants to be unhappy. It is not pleasant. It is tiring. It doesn't feel good. We all want the best life has to offer. We are not volunteering for misery. Yet the best this life has to offer is not anything that will get us true happiness, a life that is blessed, a heart full of joy, and a home with our Father in heaven.
Would Daniel have walked into the lion's den if he was worried about happiness? Would Joseph have fled from his boss' seductive wife? Would Jesus have died on the cross and forgiven his persecutors?
God doesn't guarantee any of us an easy life, a blissful marriage, obedient children, or a full bank account. What he does guarantee us is his blessing. He calls on us to obey Him and follow his teachings despite our circumstances because our eternal happiness is found only in him. Too often, we choose to try to find happiness here on earth instead of living for God and trusting in both his desire to bless us and his promise of eternal happiness with him.
The choice is ours. Which would we rather have? Temporary pleasures or eternal happiness? Living the blessed life or a fleeting happiness that evaporates with the morning dew? A deep abiding joy or something to tickle our fancy and make us happy for a moment?
I'm choosing the way of Peter, the apostles, James, and the wise man of Proverbs and I trust the Father will give me a good dose of joy, blessedness, and lasting happiness as his character becomes my own.