Happiness, etc.

Are you happy?  How do you pursue happiness?  I recently received a “forward” whose gist was that the secret of happiness is to depend entirely on God.  I sent it to a friend serving a life term in prison who seems, in that  locus of despair, sorrow, rage, and fear, to exude equanimity and even a sense of humor about his circumstances, and I asked him if this is his “secret” as well.  He responded with a brief commentary on the differences among happiness, contentment and joy.

Contentment, he said, is an acquired habit of mind and spirit (as St. Paul tells us, contentment is something he learned to have in whatever circumstances he found himself).  My friend says God always gives him the grace to endure his challenges and he is gradually learning to be content.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and “joy I have in spite of adversity and extremely unpleasant circumstances because the Spirit is in no way limited by those elements.”

He goes on:  “Happiness is another story entirely.  I am not actually convinced that happiness is important, and considering how much of a person’s life can be squandered in the pursuit of such an elusive, fleeting sentiment, it seems more worthwhile to me just to forget the whole thing.  To my mind, it is better to concentrate on the joy of the Spirit, strive for contentment in the strength of the Lord, and nevermind about happiness.”

What do you think?

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10 Responses to Happiness, etc.

  1. Kim says:

    Susan, I really appreciate this post. Though the differences among joy, contentment, happiness have been reflected upon previously in my life, it’s easy to forget, or become unmindful, of the differences.

    I tend to agree with your friend, at least to the extent that happiness is the least important of the three. I did a search of the word “happy” in the King James Version of the Bible and found that it occurs 28 times in 25 verses throughout the old and new testaments. That isn’t very many times, is it? And yet, when I read the verses, they’re all important and the term is not mitigated by its context. God seems to point out that happiness IS important.

    Perhaps what we define as happiness is the issue. Merriam Webster defines it as: : a state of well-being and contentment : joy b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

    Does our happiness stem from the superficial and temporary? If so, our happiness will probably be likewise. Or, do we find happiness in what God has created and which has eternal value, such as family, faith, virtue, and living in obedience and accordance with God’s will for our lives?

    Some would define themselves as happy when they are freshly in love, having fun, spending money, or feeling the admiration of others, etc. But all of that ends or fades eventually.

    I think that we will only ever fully have all three–contentment, joy, and happiness when we are in His presence.

  2. Susan says:

    Interesting that you checked it out in the Bible. Good thinking! I seem to remember that often “blessed” is also translated as “happy” – they are interchangeable, depending upon what Bible version you are using. I think you’re right that it’s important to be clear about what one means by “happiness.” And that seems like the seed of a whole new post!

  3. Ah, happiness. At this point in my journey I believe that happiness, blessedness, joy, contentment, all come from learning to love as God loves. When we do, and as Christians we catch glimpses of that love in our daily walk, we step outside ourselves. Selfishness destroys happiness and selflessness leads us to love, to being happy. Yet our culture insists ont the opposite message, a great difficulty today.

  4. Susan says:

    I like this, Chris, and I see your insight reflected in your book, Hana-lani, as Meredith moves from “blessedness” as the world defines it to something more real, by way of being cared for and caring for others. It’s the journey we all share, isn’t it?

  5. Kirsty says:

    Happiness is so elusive, I agree on that count. I think that so many people seek it without actually realising how blessed they are. I wouldn’t translate blessed as happy. I think that happiness comes from being able to accept and value one’s blessings. Happiness is not so much a journey in the physical world, as in the spiritual. For me, at least.

  6. Bill Walden says:

    Susan,
    Our friend may know this better than many who are free to go where they will. He has learned this truth in the fires of life. Thanks for posting this great word. Blessings on you and hubby this Easter season.

  7. Peggy says:

    I tend to think of happiness as fleeting. At this point in my life, I’m hoping for peace, and I suppose that is more about joy than happiness. I know what brings me peace and I know who feeds my soul… and I tend not to have time any more for people who don’t. I spent years working with and focusing on others, verbally acknowledging that I could only find happiness within while continually search for it outwardly. Now I’m not searching. Maybe it’s a middle-age thing?!

  8. Susan says:

    Yes, Bill, that is for sure! Blessings on you, too!

  9. Susan says:

    Wise words, Peggy. Middle-age? I don’t know – some of us take longer than that!

  10. Susan says:

    Excellent point! I seem to hear an echo of the word, “gratitude” in there somewhere, and recall hearing that being grateful is a great path to happiness. When St. Paul was talking about contentment in any circumstances, he didn’t say it had to do with gratitude, but in other places he talks about how his gratitude for knowing Christ overshadows any other blessing or woe. I think he would agree with you.

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