Faith & Reflection
I spoke with a man who was going through some pretty tough times in his life. I shared how several years ago I’d experienced, not identical, but similar circumstances and explained to him how my relationship with Christ had helped me through. As we conversed, he listened intently and watched me closely. When our dialogue seemed to have come to a natural end there was a short pause followed by an interrogative. He inquired, “But are you happy?”
According to Dennis Wholey, author of Are You Happy? only 20 per cent of Americans are happy. Thomas Szasz cynically adds, “Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children and by children to adults.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne believed happiness was stumbled upon rather than discovered. He wrote, “Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us on a wild goose chase and is never attained.
Follow some other object and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.”
Some have taught that happiness is overrated, believing that it is reliant solely upon circumstances or happenings. They emphasize the need for joy, which is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Their point is that happiness quickly disappears when negative circumstances occur, while joy will exist and persist even in times of trials and difficulties.
I agree with the foregoing except that there is room for both joy and happiness. The phrase, “Happy is the man …,” is used several times in scripture and many translations employ the word happy in place of blessed. Joy does not exclude happiness but overlaps and interrelates with it.
An emphasis on happiness alone does leave one vulnerable to the ebb and flow of circumstances. But those who have their focus only on joy, totally excluding happiness, espouse a supra spiritual attitude; one that might explain why some who claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus perennially display long faces and give the appearance of having been baptized in pickle juice.
So … I answered my friend, “Good question! Yes, I’m happy … most of the time, but when happiness wanes, God continues to provide a deep inner joy that sustains me even in the midst of illness, loss or other hardships.”
Quoting Psalm 23:6, which says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” I suggested that this verse addresses the issues of both time (all the days of my life) and eternity (forever). Why wouldn’t I be happy?
By the way … are you happy?
Pastor Ross Helgeton is Senior Pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.