When you were a child, you probably sang the song, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…” Our parents, undoubtedly, loved watching you try to clap your chubby, little hands, and, even worse, stomp your uncoordinated feet. Whether that happened to you or not — it did me.
But then as I got older and more critical, I began to realize how strange and even wrong it was to throw around the idea of happiness so flippantly that whether you were happy or not, you better sing the song, clap your hands, stomp your feet, and shout “hooray” (or “amen” if you learned the song in Sunday school class).
I thought it was so strange because even though all of us have an innate desire to be happy, most people are not. Many people even admit that they are not happy. Then something like a pandemic takes place and it just gets worse.
Some people have even written off the possibility of happiness for themselves, assuming that sadness, disappointment, or even depression is just their lot in life.
In light of those verses, I want you to consider that even though they often seem so fleeting and out of our grasp, the feeling of happiness and the internal state of joy is actually possible, fulfillment can be found, and satisfaction can be felt.
Is it Okay to Be Happy?
In fact, God even wants us to be happy! I’m not just talking about plastering a smile on our face because we are supposed to be “fine” when people ask us how we are doing. I mean that God desires for his children to experience happiness, walk in joy, and live a fulfilled life!
But the problem that plagues humanity is not that we are looking for happiness in all the “wrong places” (as the many self-help books might tell you), but that we are looking at things in the wrong way. The lens through which we try to see life is out of focus.
However, there is a way that we can live our lives that will result in happiness and joy (even when things do not go our way).
I saw an interview on TV once about someone that wanted to live as a woman after decades of living as a man. His reasoning for the drastic change was so that he could be “happy” — which is an incredibly common phrase in our culture today. Then on cue, his daughters chimed in with “I just want him to be happy” and “it is good to see him happy.”
But the interview did not tell the whole story, because not only does research tell us that changing who God created us to be will not make us happy, but none of the “tricks” that the devil uses in the media to guarantee happiness ever work. Scripture is especially full of real-life examples of this, such as the stories of David or Samson.
To take it a step further, anytime we do something where happiness is our focus, we will end up disappointed and sad. Picture a child eating an entire bag of candy because he thinks it will make him happy. And it does — for a few minutes. Check back on him in about 30 minutes and see how happy he is with a stomachache!
As paradoxical as it sounds, if you want to find happiness for yourself, then happiness cannot be your goal. Instead, happiness (the feeling) and joy (the state of being) comes as a by-product of selflessness.
Happiness is not about you doing something to gain happiness, but it comes as a result of making others and (ultimately God) happy.
That is where the trite acronym of JOY, Jesus, Others, and Yourself, is actually very helpful. But again, most people are not finding happiness and joy because they are looking for it in the wrong way.
So, in order for us to gain happiness through the events in our lives, no matter how difficult they might be, we have to change our focus from the problem in front of us to what is beyond the problem.
For example, it does not make me happy that my son often wakes me up in the middle of the night because he is scared or has growing pains, nor was I happy when I had to help my mom off her hospital bed to the bathroom as she was recovering from cancer.
But you know what? I did feel happy when my child felt safe and comfortable enough to go back to sleep, and I did feel happy when my mom was cared for, comfortable, and knew that she was loved. And both of those examples still bring me happiness.
Or think of how soldiers, police officers, and rescue workers do not necessarily get joy from fighting enemies, arresting lawbreakers, or entering burning buildings, but they do find joy and fulfillment in knowing that families are free, safe, and healthy because of their hard work. They found joy not in the problem in front of them, but in the outcome of their selfless acts.
The best of all examples is what the writer of Hebrews said about Jesus:
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).
Jesus did not find joy on the cross. He did not give himself up to be tortured and crucified because it made him “feel good.” Instead he “despised” the cross because of the unimaginable pain and shame that it would bring him.
Can Happiness Be Found in Joy?
But the effect of the cross — pleasing the Father by providing salvation for fallen humanity — brought him great joy. With his eyes set on the result of his selfless act, he could endure anything, and it would bring him joy. Oswald Chambers once said:
The joy of Jesus was His absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice to His Father — the joy of doing that which the Father sent Him to do.
In the same way, we will never find lasting happiness or joy by focusing on the issues right in front of us. Our family, job, marriage, health, country, nor anything else will actually ever bring us happiness. We must (in a sense) choose happiness by looking further ahead beyond our issues to the result of our selfless acts.
That is how we can, like Jesus, live joyfully despite our situation — whether that be a difficult marriage, a rebellious child, a bleak diagnosis, a job loss, a death in the family, or whatever else.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/evgenyatamanenko
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.