NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Start Looking for the Happiness You Seek in the Right Place-- The Arms of Christ (Psalm 37:4)
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If you do, I have a suggestion that will make 2020 a great year for you: start looking for the happiness you seek in the arms of Christ rather than in worldly pursuits. Happiness is a goal most people share. In fact, for Americans, its pursuit is a fundamental right set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Writing in 1776, Thomas Jefferson stated that all people have certain “…unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson’s words are high-minded and inspiring, but there is a problem with his famous statement: he failed to define “happiness” or identify its true source. Because the American ethos values individuality, perhaps Jefferson felt it would be presumptuous of him to define “happiness” for others. Maybe he saw happiness as one of those concepts that must be defined by individuals for themselves. Unfortunately, misguided definitions of happiness often lead to unhappiness.
Regardless of Mr. Jefferson’s intentions, many people view happiness from the perspective of different strokes for different folks. While it is true that what makes one person happy might not make another person happy, this view of happiness has a major shortcoming: it is self-centered. A self-centered view of happiness is flawed from the outset because it is based on individuals getting what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. This is not likely to happen very often because it means that every individual is perpetually competing against others who also want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. This misguided and self-centered view of happiness is why so many people are unhappy.
Billions of dollars are spent every year in the pursuit of happiness. We take expensive vacations, indulge in time-consuming hobbies, obsess over college and professional sports, watch endless amounts of television, live vicariously through movies, and glue ourselves to social media and the Internet, yet the happiness we seek eludes us or comes only in intermittent and temporary spurts. One thing is certain: there is a lot of unhappiness in the world. Henry David Thoreau was prescient when he claimed that a lot of people trudge through life in a state of “quiet desperation.” As a Christian counselor, I see these people all the time.
Where people go wrong when it comes to the pursuit of happiness is failing to understand its source before beginning their quest. While it is possible to find temporary amusement in various forms of self-indulgent entertainment, when you pursue happiness through worldly means you become like hamsters on an exercise wheel: you run furiously but get nowhere. Until you understand that the happiness you seek comes from serving God rather than entertaining yourself, you will never be happy. There may be brief moments of amusement in your life, but true happiness will always elude you until serving God is how you go about pursuing it. Let’s look at an example that illustrates the futility of looking for happiness in the things of the world.
SCRIPTURE IN ACTION: AN EXAMPLE
Beth could hardly remember the last time she felt happy much less joyful. There was a time when Beth experienced joy so often she took it for granted. In high school, Beth exulted at her frequent victories in track meets. As an all-state sprinter, Beth knew the jubilation of victory. In college, the continual feedback she received from professors about her outstanding academic work made her happy. Beth was euphoric over graduating Magna Cum Laude and being selected to give the graduation address for her class. After college, Beth found happiness in her marriage and the birth of her son.
Beth’s life was once characterized by happiness interspersed with periods of joy. But those days were long gone now. It was difficult for Beth to believe how much her life had changed in recent years. Her once happy marriage was now strained. Beth’s wonderful little boy whose birth had brought her so much joy had grown into a rebellious teenager hooked on drugs. Adding to her family problems, Beth hated her job. She recently told a friend that going to work was like going to a funeral but worse because she had to go to work every day.
Beth craved some happiness in her life. She longed for those days of old when periods of pure joy were common. This is where things stood when she approached her pastor for help. Pastor Mark listened patiently and empathetically as Beth recounted how happy she had once been and how unhappy she was now. When she had finished this account of her life, Pastor Mark asked Beth a simple but profound question: “Beth, how do you define happiness?” She responded that to her happiness was a feeling of pleasure with how things were going in her life. Then Pastor Mark asked, “What makes you feel happy or experience joy?” Beth responded that other than the birth of her son, her most memorable moments of joy were tied to the recognition she got from excelling at sports and in the classroom.
Pastor Mark then told Beth that if the recognition, approval, or esteem of others was the source of her happiness and joy, she was destined to live a life devoid of both. Depending on others for her happiness would just leave her with a crushed spirit, which was an apt description of her condition at the moment. Worldly sources of happiness have one thing in common: they are temporary and unreliable. Human recognition and approval are fickle and fleeting; they are here today and gone tomorrow. By now she should have learned this hard lesson.
“Beth, you are dealing with some serious personal problems: your tenuous marriage, a rebellious son, and a dreary job. But even as you cope with these difficulties, you can be happy and even find joy. The key is to stop looking for happiness in the wrong places. The happiness you seek can be found in only one place: the loving arms of Jesus Christ. When you find your happiness in serving God, there can be joy in your life on even your worse days. Also, remember this: God uses both joy and adversity to bring you closer to him. The closer you come to God, Beth, the happier you will be.”
It took a while, but Beth eventually accepted the advice Pastor Mark offered. When interacting with her husband, she stopped complaining about how much happier she had been in the “good old days” back in high school and college. Instead, she started serving God in her marriage by doing everything she could to improve her relationship with her husband. With her son, Beth stopped yelling, threatening, and accusing, and got him into a drug rehabilitation program. At work, she served God by setting an example of exemplifying the Christian work ethic for her colleagues. More importantly, Beth became a humble, contributing team player instead of a recognition-seeking self-promoter.
Over time, things began to improve in Beth’s life. It took some time, but eventually, she got her marriage back and a drug-free son too. At work, she found joy in knowing she was setting a Christ-like example for her coworkers instead of always trying to outdo them in the race for recognition and awards. Once Beth understood the true source of happiness and joy, she once again started experiencing both, but this time things were different. The happiness and joy she felt were real and they were permanent because they came from the right source: Jesus Christ. Even better, she could now be happy even in the midst of adversity.
LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE FOR YOUR DAILY WALK
To enhance your daily walk with the Lord, learn from Beth’s example. Make happiness and joy part of your daily walk by looking for them in the right place: the loving arms of Jesus Christ (Psalm 37:3). Serve God every day and you will find joy in doing so. There are important lessons for your daily walk in Beth’s story. The first is that true and lasting happiness comes not from worldly amusements, entertainment, or leisure, but from trusting in the Lord and seeking to serve him. Worldly happiness is temporary, self-centered in nature, and dependent on the wrong things. But the happiness that comes from serving God is real, permanent, and available to you always, even in times of adversity. You will not experience true and lasting happiness until you accept that it comes from serving God (Psalm 37:4).
When we delight in the Lord instead of the recognition and esteem of the world, we gain access to permanent happiness and real joy. People are fickle, but God is steady. People are unreliable, but God is dependable. People are fleeting, but God is permanent. There is nothing wrong with enjoying appropriate worldly pleasures and pursuits and nothing wrong with seeking happiness and joy. This is the message in Proverbs 17:22 in which we read that “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” God wants you to be happy, but he wants your joy to come from serving him not from the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Appropriate worldly pleasures are fine, but don’t depend on these things for your happiness.
There is going to be adversity in your life, count on it. Things won’t always go the way you want them to or turn out the way you hope they will. In a fallen world, there will always be struggles. Adversity is a normal part of life; it is to be expected. This is yet another reason why it is important to seek the happiness you desire by serving God. There will be bad days in your life, but even on your worst day you can experience the joy of knowing that God will use the adversity you face to make you a better person and bring you closer to him (Ecclesiastes 7:14). This is good news because the closer you are to God, the happier you will be. If you make New Year’s Resolutions, make one of them to start looking for the happiness you seek in the arms of Christ rather than in worldly pursuits.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com