I've been thinking about happiness lately...where it comes from...how do we get more of it...and what is the relationship between happiness and joy??
Growing up in the church, I was taught that there's a difference between happiness and joy...here's how it went: "Happiness is something that depends on your circumstances, but joy comes from your relationship with God, so no matter what your circumstances, you can be joyful." I can understand the thought, on some level...but to be honest, I don't really see anything in scripture to support the premise, and I'm not so sure that it describes the human experience very well. I bring it up because I'd like to de-spiritualize the whole conversation for a moment, and talk about what it might take for us to live happier...more joyful lives.
There's little question in my mind that pleasant circumstances tend to make us happy...what's wrong with that? On the other hand, I have also come to believe that happiness can be created by our own choice. I read an article by Darren Hardy today, and I liked what he had to say about the subject:
"The bottom line is this: Happiness creates. It is not derived from the outside; it is only derived from within. Happiness is a state of mind, and you can continually choose to be happy. The best way I know to live in happiness is to live in gratitude."
The Old Testament reading in church yesterday morning came from Isaiah 35, and reads, in part, this way:
"They (the people of Israel) will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will be upon their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorry and sighing will flee away."
You know what I thought when I heard this passage read? I thought,
"God's endgame is joy. Whatever is going on right now...wherever we may be on the road of life, the destination is joy."
So...if God is the parent, and we're riding in the backseat of the family mini-van, the next question might be, "Are we there yet?" And...I think...I would even go so far as to say, I believe, that God has given us the tools for joy in the here and now...
But even if we struggle to live in a state of joy and happiness in our present-day lives, eventually, gladness and joy will overtake us, because that is God's ultimate destination for us.
If you've ever experienced what it's like for a child to joyfully run up behind you and jump on your back, you have a small foretaste of what it's like for gladness and joy to overtake you... There is a childlike abandon involved in the experience of joy...it requires that we give ourselves completely to what is happy in the present moment, without worry about what comes next...whether the laundry needs doing, or the car needs fixing...we just choose, for the moment...to be happy.
I've been very sad at various points in time over the past several months...very sad...so I say these things with a deep appreciation for what it means to grieve, to experience significant loss...and to be depressed. I do not disregard the fact that life can be very hard, and indeed, very painful...but in most of our life experiences, we have much to be joyful about...much to be grateful for...and we very much have the freedom and the capacity to choose our own happiness.
Falling in love can be one of life's most wonderful experiences...certainly a source of deep joy and happiness...but falling in love with someone requires that we choose to give ourselves to the person and to the process...we have to let go of control, and make our heart available to the wave of emotion that is love...
I'm wondering today if falling into joy is something that we can also choose to give ourselves to? Can I make a decision to trust joyfulness? Can I give myself over to happiness in this present moment...and then string some moments together into a happy day?
If I had to choose a way to get there from here...I might take Darren Hardy's advice, and start a gratitude list...in this moment...on December 13, 2010...what am I grateful for? If I make a list of what is good and happy in my life right now, and then sit and stare at it for a moment...would I experience a moment of joy? Would you?
And...if having experienced even a moment of joy and gratitude...could we perhaps string together a few more moments of joy...even an hour or two...? Having made a small start on the journey toward happiness, could we build the foundation for a more joyful life?
Remember, in the end, gladness and joy is going to overtake us all, so we might as well give into it now, and just enjoy the trip.