What is the big deal with happiness? When Thomas Jefferson was writing up the draft of the United States Declaration of Independence he penned the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In many ways this phrase has become the dangling carrot of our lives. The tasty morsel that is just out of reach. We can smell it and see it, but for some reason we never can quite reach it.
Is it just a coincidence or did Tom deliberately not say the “acquisition of happiness?” That would have a different meaning altogether. That would imply that one might actually be able to lay hold of this coveted thing called happiness.
The word “pursuit” conjures up images in my mind of a fox chasing a rabbit through the brambles and just as the fox is about to pounce the rabbit ducks into a hole. The chase goes on and on and the fox’s appetites is never satisfied. Pursuit implies an active chase, one that goes on and on.
This all sounds very much like Ecclesiastes 1:14 where Solomon complains about “chasing after the wind.” If you chase the wind how do you know when you have caught it? How will you know once you have caught happiness?
Nowhere in the Bible does God promise us happiness. Happiness tends to be a moving target. It is possible for one person to envy the “happy life” of another person while that other person is perfectly miserable. Just look at the tabloids. You would think that actors should be the happiest people in the world. They are wealthy, sexy and famous. Yet they look pretty miserable to me. Have they gained happiness yet?
Happiness seems to be largely influenced by things that are out of our control. For example, I could hand you a crisp one hundred dollar bill and that may make you happy, you might even crack a smile. A few moments later I could karate chop you on the collar bone and you may get mad and want to strangle me. Then I could smile and tell you that I bought you a brand new Beamer! Now you are happy again, you may even give me a hug, but let’s not push it!
Make a Choice
While happiness is largely influenced by outside forces, joy is something that you can choose. Joy comes from within. Joy is accessible and does not require pursuit.
“The Joy of the Lord is our strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
Contrary to popular assumptions, joy is not equal to happiness, nor does it require happiness. You can be joyful without being particularly happy. Conversely you can be happy on the outside and miserable on the inside. Happiness is external, joy is internal. You have no control over happiness, but you can choose to be joyful.
Choosing to be joyful is rooted in trusting in God. When I trust that God is working the events in my life for good, then I can rest in that knowledge and choose joy even when I am going through hell on earth.
James 1:2 says one of the most perplexing things about joy. It simply says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
How can I count it joy when my home is in foreclosure? What about if I lost my job? What if my pet parrot has laryngitis? I can because I have chosen joy. I am not basing my fulfillment in life by chasing after some elusive “happiness,” but I can rest in the joy that Christ fills me with.