I have learned something along life’s journey for me, happiness is a choice! A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly. All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:13)
A woman climbed on the bathroom scale after two weeks of plain toast and chili dogs around the park. The needle was still stuck on the number where she’d started. This struck her as typical of how things had been going lately. She was destined never to be happy. As she dressed, scowling at her tight jeans, she found $20 in her pocket. Then her sister called with a funny story. When she hurried out to the car, angry that she had to get gas, she discovered her roommate had already filled the tank for her. And this was a woman who thought she’d never be happy.
Every day, it seems, we’re flooded with pop-psyche advice about happiness. The relentless message is that there’s something we’re supposed to do to be happy. We have to make the right choices or have the right set of beliefs about ourselves. Our Founding Fathers even wrote the pursuit of happiness into the Declaration of Independence. Coupled with this is the notion that happiness is a permanent condition. If we’re not joyful all the time, we conclude there’s a problem.
The Bible rarely uses the word “happiness,” and for good reason. “Happiness” in Biblical terms merely means “blessed.” As in the Beatitudes, “blessed are,” “happy are….” The Bible prefers to use the word “joy.” It is the Greek word that means “exceedingly glad.” Because joy is deeper, fuller and more profound. Joy endures more.
Happiness is an attitude, not a condition. It’s cleaning the Venetian blinds while listening to Celine Dion sing, “The Power of Love.” The quiet while organizing your desk. Happiness is your family assembled at dinner. It’s in the present, not in the distant promise of a “someday when…” How much luckier we are, and how much more happiness we experience, if we can fall in love with the life we’re living.
Don’t go looking for happiness, it is not something that can be found. Happiness is more than getting what we want. Consider the story of Juan Rodriguez, a New York parking-lot attendant who won $149 million in the lottery two days after filing for bankruptcy. His big win only brought him trouble: Besieged by friends and relatives wanting a handout. Wife divorced him and sued for half. Money is rarely the answer to happiness.
Some people even pursue marriage and having children to find happiness. While there may be happiness in those two things the wiser choice is being happy as you go into marriage or having children. Some view marriage and children as a flight simulator that trains us somehow to be happy. If we our not happy prior to marriage and children, are success will be limited.
Every Sunday the Choir looks out over this congregation. You ought to hear the conversation in the Choir Room. Did you see that man nodding off to sleep? What about that lady texting through the whole service? Did you see that woman in the pink boa? Joe is sitting in the wrong spot for him. But, they can also see the expressions on your faces. Those expressions tell a story. Who is in pain, who has a joy and who wants to learn.
Religious people tend to be happier people. Happiness does not come from seeking it, but from seeking God. It is important to understand that the Christian finds this happiness because our faith calls us to be a people filled with “gratitude.” Gratitude produces happiness! Happiness is the joy of lots of little things, not just one big thing. It is the combination of all of these little things that give us a sense of fulfillment.
Science tells us there are three major factors in happiness. We know that happiness to a limited degree is genetic. Happiness is both a part of our DNA and a learned response. We know that women are generally more happy than men. That the least happiest time in our lives is during mid-life.
We know that “big life events” have a large role in our happiness. Marriages, births, successes, winnings, recognitions, awards, etc. But the happiness wears off or fades. Research shows that quadriplegics are more happy after six months, than are lottery winners after six months.
Happiness is a choice. Reach out for it at the moment it appears, like a balloon drifting seaward in a bright blue sky. Choice, makes us happy. Choice in what we call the big four brings up happiness. 1)Faith, 2) Family, 3) Community, and 4) Work.
What we don’t often realize but is true, happiness leads to success in life. Choice is probably the single biggest factor. Choice to forgive and maybe even forget. Choice to be kind, even when someone isn’t kind. Choice to “look on the bright side,” when there isn’t much brightness. Choice to “let go.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Why? Because they let go. As Proverbs says, “…but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.”