So You Wanna Be Happy?

You will never be truly happy unless you do things God’s way:

OK, hands up all those who want to be happy. Yep, almost all of us want to be happy. But… The issue is, should the pursuit of happiness be our end game? Is that really what life is all about? (Yes, the US Constitution speaks about the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but an earlier version by John Locke was ‘life, liberty, and property.’)

Whether happiness as such is an unalienable right, it is certainly something that most Westerners expect as an entitlement. Over a half century ago the great Francis Schaeffer repeatedly said that the supreme value in the West is “personal peace and affluence”. And most Western Christians would think exactly the same way.

The problem is, is that a biblical way to look at things? Judging by many popular preachers today, you would think it was. We have plenty of fake gospellers that are pushing this fake message that we believers should always be happy, healthy, and wealthy. The message being preached is that we should always be personally fulfilled, have all our dreams and desires met, and have our best life now.

But no one who actually reads the Bible – instead of just allowing their ears to be tickled by religious charlatans – can ever buy such nonsense. They know that Scripture teaches otherwise. Indeed, what actually prompted me to write this piece was something that stood out to me in my daily reading.

I am back in the Psalms again and in Psalm 1 we are told quite clearly what real happiness (or blessedness) consists of. The first two verses say this:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

As can be seen, at the very least, there are conditions placed on how we obtain blessedness. And those conditions do NOT tell us to pamper ourselves, indulge ourselves, and seek to have all our desires met. The conditions are a life of holiness and obedience to God. The conditions are the denunciation of self, of self-abandonment, not self-indulgence.

We find the same thing being spoken about in the Sermon on the Mount. Bearing in mind that the word for ‘blessed’ is often interchangeable with the word ‘happy,’ we once more find some hardcore conditions for getting such blessedness or happiness. As we read in Matthew 5:2-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Once again we see what brings about true happiness. And the list Jesus offers us looks nothing at all like what so many modern preachers are telling us. In fact his list is the exact opposite of their spurious claims: We are happy when we are persecuted. We are happy when we mourn. We are happy when we are pure in heart.

The upside down kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was just as scandalous and shocking back then as it is today. It goes against our normal way of thinking and it goes against our most deeply held values. No wonder so many folks prefer the false prophets and teachers to the real deal Jesus. They share no common ground.

C. S. Lewis on happiness

Image of God in the Dock
God in the Dock by Lewis, C. S. (Author) Amazon logo

The renowned English apologist and writer C. S. Lewis had much to say about happiness and our skewed understanding of it. He understood what real happiness amounted to, as opposed to the world’s view on this. In a Q&A session held back in 1944 he said this in part:

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.

In that same session he asked this question: “Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?” To which he gave this famous reply:

As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it.

In the same book that that session is found – God in the Dock – he also has an essay entitled “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’.” In it he wrote:

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe – whatever, one school of moralists may say – that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.

And in Mere Christianity he wrote about “the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy”:

The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Importantly, Lewis often stressed that happiness and joy are just byproducts – they come from something else, and cannot be found or obtained when they are our primary aim or desire – when they are seen as ends in themselves. Making happiness our overwhelming goal in life will mean it will forever elude us. Making God our main aim will result in plenty of great byproducts – including true happiness.

As he said at the very end of Mere Christianity, it is all about giving up ourselves so that we can become who we are really meant to be:

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking at Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

So you wanna be happy? Then take to heart the words of Jesus as found in Matthew 16:24-26: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

[1734 words]

6 Replies to “So You Wanna Be Happy?”

  1. Since becoming stronger in my faith, I was raised in the church but it wasn’t til middle school I became strengthened, I have found happiness to be fleeting. Oh I have had several moments some lasting some time others not very long but not long long stretches of happiness. My normal mood is just on the slightly depressed side which isn’t too bad I think it has help prevent me from ever going into a deep depression and has been quite beneficial these past few years of being stuck at home. Yes I would like more happiness but I’ll get plenty in heaven. God promises to repay the lost years the things lost and I know there’ll be much happiness in heaven. Sometimes while here on earth you learn to find small happinesses wherever you can. Especially when you are a Christian. If you’re a true believer you’re used by God for thing that can weigh you down but he’ll give you small bits of happiness, of joy to help you soldier on. It seems the deeper I get in what God has for me the less big happiness there is but small joys are there for the taking if you just accept them when they come. A flower, a sunset, a double rainbow, maybe some downtime to listen to some music or look at that old family album. For those of you without arthritis maybe a nice gentle rain ( I have arthritis in several places so I can’t enjoy rain like I used to). If you have a pet some time with them in your lap petting them. (If you have a la-z-boy type chair and put the legs up a medium sized dog can fit there with his/her head on your lap.) These may not last long before you find yourself drudging on with something else but every little moment is helpful.

    Nail your old self to the cross with Christ and walk with him he will give you whatever happiness you need when you need it. You might want more sure but in this world we only get but a taste of what is to come. If you notice when they taste wine they don’t take that much into their mouths just enough to get the flavors just enough to get a TASTE of it. “We’ve only tasted the wine, We’re gonna drain the cup dry”.

  2. I noticed years ago when reading Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new “under the sun” and at first I found this quite depressing, reading what Solomon had to say about life being meaningless. But then Pastor Geoff Bingham told me that it refers to life “under the sun”, not life “under the Son”. There is nothing lasting in this life and wordly pleasures are fleeting and don’t bring intrinsic happiness, unless viewed in context of eternal life and the call to share the Gospel of Jesus who took on human flesh and died in our place. Through Him we have a foretaste of heaven, but we also share in His dying and rising each day. Life on this earth is difficult because everything is tainted with sin. We saw this particularly during the last two years when families and churches were divided over who to follow, which reminds me of (Matthew 24:6-8 ESV) “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

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