Take a moment and ask yourself a simple, yet important, question: “Am I happy?” In this moment, as you read these words—pause—be honest—and give yourself a yes or no answer.
I did that as I wrote this reflection. Although I generally consider myself a happy, grateful guy, to be honest, I’m not happy right now. My dog’s too needy and commands my undivided attention. My life is filled with an abundant, delightful assortment of friends and family, but my inner introvert screams, I need some solitude. My neighbor’s leaf blower buzzing at 7:55 a.m. while I’m trying to write steals my joy. The irony? I’m writing a reflection about happiness, but don’t feel happy on the inside. Yuk.
Instead of forcing myself to count my blessings, flip the light switch on my negative attitude, and fake it ‘til I make it (which are often very good ways to find your happy), I got bold and did as Jennifer Dukes Lee suggested in her book, The Happiness Dare: Pursuing Your Heart’s Deepest, Holiest, and Most Vulnerable Desire.
I said to God, “I want to be happy.”
Here’s what God unfolded after my heart-felt prayer:
Happiness and Joy Aren’t Arch Enemies
As Jennifer Dukes Lee points out in her book, there’s a battle in a lot of spiritual writing these days that pits happiness and joy against each other. We’ve put the two virtues in a boxing ring claiming joy is more spiritual than happiness. In fact, some writers contend happiness isn’t a virtue—it’s a sin because it’s based on self-centered pleasure or dependent on outer circumstances. As a result, many good people contend joy needs to knock happiness out of the spiritual boxing ring because being happy is not holy.
According to Randy Alcorn in his book, God’s Promise of Happiness, “Until the twentieth century, happiness and joy were used interchangeably. Then some Christian leaders saw the word happiness used for sinful activities (e.g., people abandoning their families to ‘be happy’), so they started speaking against happiness-seeking.” Alcorn says those concerns were understandable, but instead of throwing happiness out of the holy boxing ring, they should have pointed instead to true happiness being found in our relationship with the Divine. We are blessed, holy, happy, and joyful—all of that good stuff—when we know God loves us and seeks to guide us with a loving hand.
So, do we have to choose between joy and happiness? Are the two arch enemies? Or is it just semantics that pits the two against each other? Is happiness not unholy, but simply misunderstood? And most important, does God want us to be happy?
Reclaiming Holy Happiness
Lee reminds us that Scripture reveals Jesus was not only holy—he was happy. The Scriptures never pit holiness against happiness. So, holy happiness is a good thing.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth in his Sermon on the Mount was not the word “holy” or “joyful.” It was “happy.” “Happy are those who . . .”(Matt 5: 1-12).
According to Lee, “The word for happy in the Scriptures is the Greek makarios. Some translations use the English word blessed whenever makarios appears in the New Testament. But other translators—keenly aware that makarioscomes from the word makar (which means happy or blessed)—translate the word to happiness instead. It’s on that mount where Jesus opens a profoundly important door into the happiness we can have in him. This is happiness, he tells us: Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor, those who mourn, those who are humble, those who desire to do what God requires. Happy are those who are merciful and pure in heart, those who work for peace. Remarkably, happiness is also available for those who are persecuted and insulted. ‘Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven,’ Jesus tells us. Is Jesus happy? Theologian John Piper would take it a mile-step further to ask you, ‘Who is the happiest human who ever lived?’ The answer, Piper says unequivocally, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Unlike what society teaches, holy happiness is not self-centered. It’s not about “what’s in it for me?” or misguided pleasure. In its correct understanding, happiness is a God-given desire. It’s in our DNA. And as Lee points out, God is the author of happiness. Like a Divine Parent, the Creator wants us to be happy.
Find Your Happy
If we want to experience true joy, it’s important to define what happiness means for us. We need to find a definition we can integrate into our deepest understanding. One that’s filled with wisdom so it can become a guiding principle for our lives. One that can transport us into the heart of God. One that launches us into discovering our authentic selves.
Here’s a smorgasbord of how others have defined happiness:
Lee and Alcorn teach there’s no explicit difference between happiness and joy. Both involve the emotions, both are pleasurable feelings, and both are mentioned in Scripture in passages that equate the two. The two words are actually synonyms. They’re more alike than unalike. Joy and happiness are twins.
A dictionary definition of happiness is “a state of well-being; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” A definition of the word rejoice, related to the word joy, is “to feel great delight; to be glad.”
Henri Nouwen says that joy (which could also refer to happiness) is, “ . . . the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing—sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death—can take that love away . . . . Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”
Thomas Merton writes, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.”
In the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, John 15:11 quotes Jesus as saying: “I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am.”
What’s Your Definition of Happiness?
Instead of searching for that elusive happiness that seems just beyond our reach, maybe establishing an inner guidepost for what true happiness is can become a transforming way of knowing how and when we experience it.
Happiness for me starts with my morning quiet time with God. It’s my happiness “sweet spot” where I bring my joys, sorrows, confusion, and questions to my Best Friend. From that intimate space I’ve come to believe happiness is this: “Knowing I am unconditionally loved and guided by God—and nothing or no one can take that away from me.”
I guess happiness is all about relationship—the human and Divine as One, which then flows into how we experience all of life and spills into our relationship with others.
What’s Your Happiness Style?
Once we’ve defined what happiness means for us, we can dive deeper and discover what our personal happiness style is.
In The Happiness Dare, Lee suggests that just like we have different spiritual gifts, so too we have different ways of experiencing happiness. Knowing our dominant happiness style helps us experience God’s purpose and delight in our lives. We learn how we’re wired and what brings us joy.These are the five styles she’s identified:
Doers find supreme happiness in purposeful activity. They are in their happy place when they are doing what they were created to do—and doing it well.
Relaters find supreme happiness in positive, meaningful relationships with others. They thrive in the company of friends and family.
Experiencers find supreme happiness by engaging in meaningful moments with a sense of adventure, curiosity, and whimsy—at home or on the road.
Givers find supreme happiness by seeking ways to bring delight to others. They believe that a shared happiness is a double happiness.
Thinkers find supreme happiness in the contemplative work of the mind. They take delight in learning, pondering, and dreaming.
You can take her free Happiness Style Quiz on her website at Happiness Style.
God Does Want Us to “Find Our Happy”
I’ve come to this firm conviction: God does want us to be happy and find our happy sweet spot. Wouldn’t it be just like the Creator to not only model true happiness through the life of Jesus, but also gift us with happiness as part of our DNA?
How about you? Do you believe God wants you to be happy? If so, what’s your definition of holy happiness? What’s your happiness style? Can you find and spread that happiness to others?
Can you live these words from Christ: “I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am”?
—brian j plachta
July Free Webinar: Does God Want You to “Find Your Happy?” If so, How?
Why is being happy one of the most difficult, elusive emotions?
Is it wrong to be happy?
Is God okay with us being happy?
Is happiness a choice?
Are there spiritual practices we can incorporate into our daily lives to increase our level of happiness?
Join me for a FREE Finding Flow Webinar: Does God Want You to “Find Your Happy?” If so, How?
Tuesday, July 27, 2021 @ 7 pm to 8:30 pm (Eastern US Time)
During the webinar you’ll discover:
- A definition of happiness you can build your life around.
- That God is the inventor of happiness and delights when we experience it.
- Our inner desire for happiness is part of our God-given DNA.
- The source of happiness is inside us—it doesn’t demand we try harder or pretend to be someone else.
- You’ll also be invited to take a Happiness Style Inventory to discover your “Happiness Sweet Spot.”