It says in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those words are the preamble to the American dream. But more than 225 years later, the innocent, hopeful intentions of our founding fathers have become blind and dangerous compulsions.
We all know we can’t buy happiness, and we are often surprised by what brings us happiness and frustrated by what we believe should make us happy.
It has been suggested that we are becoming a nation of men and women who, in the quest for happiness, all too often fall short of achieving any kind of inner peace. Instead of life’s journey being an exhilarating adventure into the unknown, for many of us it is a compulsive and tiring trek, an exhausting journey where the next stop for replenishment never seems to arrive.
George Santayana: “A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness rsides in an imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.”
“Many apparently successful people feel that their success is underserved and that one day people will unmark them for the frauds they are. For all the outward trappings of success, they feel hollow inside. They can never rest and enjoy their accomplishments. They need one new success after another. They need constant reassurance from the people around them to still the voice inside them that keeps saying, “If other people knew you the way I know you, they would know what a phony you are.”.
Happiness is not about having what we want…but wanting what we have! In many ways, happiness is within us waiting to be discovered.
Fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed Christians, says pollster George Gallup, who adds that these people “are far, far happier than the rest of the population.” Committed Christians, Gallup found, are more tolerant than the average American, more involved in charitable activities, and are “absolutely committed to prayer.” While many more Americans than this 10 percent profess to be Christians, adds Gallup, most actually know little or nothing of Christian beliefs, and act no differently than non-Christians. “Overall,” says Gallup, “The Sunday School and religious education system in this country is not working.”
They (we) need to discover the difference between happiness and joy! If our goal in life is to match our will to God’s in serving Him, then we will always have work to do. In that work we will be content. And in that contentment we will find joy.
The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a “happy Christian.” Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays “that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”
I was told recently of a Russian view of happiness: An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. “Happiness,” said the Englishman, “Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire.” “You English have no romance,” said the Frenchman.
“Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant.” “You are both wrong,” said the Russian. “True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door and there stand the secret police, who say to you, ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,’ and you say, ‘Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'”
Statistics show that despite conflicts, married people are generally happier, live longer, and contribute more to society than those who remain single or leave a spouse.
People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain. … People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.
The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. … People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?
In the grand and deeply moving prophesy of the ancient prophet Isaiah, it was foretold that when Christ comes He would impart to His people “the oil of joy” for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). Joy has always been one of the most significant hallmarks of God’s people. Joy springs from the presence of God in a person’s life!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal experiences certainly proved correct the statement that “the cross of Christ destroyed the equation religion equals happiness.”
Millions of men and women across the centuries attest to a transformation in their lives. It is what is meant by Paul in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” God is here! He is alive! He is in charge!
Can this statement be said of you? Now that I know Christ, I’m happier when I’m sad than I was before when I was glad.”
I ask you, “Do you have that joy?” It’s obvious that many people don’t. And you’ve been around them, haven’t you? They’re grumps, they’re gripers, they’re very negative about virtually everything that happens in life, complaining almost all the time. As a result, they just aren’t much fun to be around.
One of my favorite stories about a person with a grumpy personality begins with a man going into the doctor’s office. As he walked in, he was met by the receptionist. He told her that he had a sore on his chin that he want-ed the doctor to examine.
She said to him, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said, “it’s just a sore on my chin. I don’t think all that is necessary.” She repeated, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said. “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.”
So he went down the hall, took the first door to the right, walked in & saw another man already sitting there in his boxer shorts, shivering. He said to him, “Boy, that receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a little sore on my chin & she told me to come down here, go through this door & take off my clothes.” The man in the boxer shorts said, “You think that’s bad? I’m the UPS delivery man.
There are some difficult people, aren’t there? “Some cause happiness whenever they go; some, whenever they go.” And what they need is a personality transplant.
There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable.
Let me give you a definition of “joy.” “Joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life.” If God is in your life, if you are filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit will be obvious in your life. (Jesus Others You)
Now don’t mistake happiness for joy. It’s easy to do that. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times. But it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. Happiness depends upon what happens to you. So if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But joy comes from inside.
Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament thirteen Hebrew roots, found in twenty-seven different words, are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship. Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy.
In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.
If you want to live longer and have a more effective witness for Christ, let his joy in your heart spill over into happy laughter. When you laugh, your diaphragm goes down, your lungs expand, and you take in two or three times more oxygen than usual. As a result, a surge of energy runs through your body.
Dr. James J. Walsh said, “Few people realize that their health actually varies due to this factor. Happy individuals recover from disease much more quickly than sad, complaining patients; and statistics show that those who laugh live longer.”
C. S. Lewis in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, writes, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchanged it for all the pleasure in the world.”
Joy is really the underlying theme of Philippians – joy that isn’t fickle, needing a lot of “things” to keep it smiling . . . joy that is deep and consistent – the oil that reduces the friction of life.
If we can convince people that we are on to something that’s full of joy, they’ll stampede one another to follow us.
Clyde Reid says in his book, Celebrate the Temporary: “One of the most common obstacles to celebrating life fully is our avoidance of pain. We do everything to escape pain. Our culture reinforces our avoidance of pain by assuring us that we can live a painless life. Advertisements constantly encourage us to believe that life can be pain-free. But to live without pain is a myth. To live without pain is to live half a life, without fullness of life. This is an unmistakable, clear, unalterable fact. Many of us do not realize that pain and joy run together. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from joy as well.”
Some needed comment
The picture of Brinson holding the dandelion flower at the beginning of this post has a special story, which is told in two emails sent to the family by their father, Eric:
“One of Brinson and Aiden’s favorite things to do on a walk is pick dandelions (and drag large sticks around…I wonder where they got that). By the end of today’s walk Aiden has accumulated quite a collection of sticks, branches, rocks, and dandelions. He continuously would drop one at a time and have to reshuffle all his treasure in order to bend over and pick the dropped one back up without dropping the rest. Brinson was satisfied with just one large branch and a small stick.
“Aiden collected every dandelion that we passed but Brinson would not pick any because they weren’t big enough…he was holding out for a ‘really big one.’ We got back to our house and he still had not found a dandelion that met his specs. We decided that we would pray for God to make a really big dandelion for Brinson to find on our next walk.
“At dinner and at bed time Brinson prayed for it. God says that if we ask in faith he will answer and Brinson fully expects to find his flower from God on our next walk. I invite you to pray along with us. Somewhere in our neighborhood tonight God is bringing up a little seed just for Brinson. It will go unnoticed by everyone except for one little boy…the little boy that it was made for. God is good and faithful…and I know that he will thoroughly enjoy watching Brinson search for his gift.”
The next morning the following email and picture came from Eric: “This morning Brinson prayed for his flower for breakfast and as he, Aiden, and Wendy were walking into their school he looked down and saw a big, yellow dandelion by the door. Obviously, he was very excited and kept it with him all day long. If only we all had faith like a child.” (In Him, Eric).