What does it mean to be happy? Does God want us to be happy? Many of us view happiness as solely depending on what happens to us. In fact, the root of the word happiness goes back to 'happenstance.' So if happiness is all about what happens to us then we are going to have lots of moments when we are not happy, right?
When it comes to happiness we've all heard the statement, “Money can't buy happiness.” Here is what the research shows: to a certain level, money can buy happiness if you are very poor. Money can give you the ability to meet your basic needs. But once those basic needs are met, and once you have a basic aspect of security in your life, more money won’t make you happy. In fact, the research shows that if you go past a certain point more money will actually make you dissatisfied with the things you have. You may be sitting out there feeling a little cynical like the guy who said, “Okay, money can't buy happiness. But I'd still like to have a lot so I can enjoy my misery all the more.” Money in and of itself doesn't buy you happiness.
Another thing research shows is that youth doesn't equal happiness. If you ask most people, who is happier-- someone older or someone younger? They would probably say someone younger. They are healthy. They don't have physical issues or ailments. But psychologist Diener and others have found in their research that one of the most unhappy groups are people who are in their 20s and 30s. From the late 40s and up, particularly around 55 or 65, those individuals actually have much deeper happiness than younger people.
What about climate? I've always heard if you live in the West where there is lots of sunshine you are going to be happy – happier than if you lived in the Midwest. There's snow and gloomy days and rain. Do you know what the research shows? The research shows that it doesn't matter where you live. There is no correlation living in the West with lots of sun compared to living in the Midwest without nearly as much sun.
Another misconception is that if you have a high IQ and education you'll be happy. Research shows no direction correlation between education and a high IQ and a person's happiness.
Two things came out of psychologist Ed Diener's research over the last 20 years. One, religious faith plays an important role in a person's happiness. Secondly, strong social connections, friends and family, play a very key role in a person's happiness.
I think context plays a big part in it. I love the story of the Englishman, the Frenchman and the Russian. They were all sitting around having a discussion about happiness. This was in an era when Stalin was ruling in communist Russia. If you said the wrong thing in Russia the secret police might show up at your door and take you away to a labor camp in Siberia if you were not towing the communist party line. These three individuals were sitting around talking. The Englishman was saying happiness was coming home, sitting down by the fire, and putting your feet into warm slippers. That is happiness. Some of you are saying, “That's what I'm talking about!” The Frenchman said, “You English have no romance. Happiness is a wonderful restaurant. Having fine wine with a beautiful woman. That is happiness.” Some of you are going, “Now THAT is what I'm talking about!” This Russian says, “You are both wrong. Happiness is when you are lying asleep at 4 AM in the morning and there is a knock on your door. It's the secret police. They say, “Ivon Ivonovich.” You breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Ivon Ivonovich lives next door.” That is happiness. It all depends on your perspective. Different perspectives have very different opinions when it comes to happiness.
Well, does God want us to be happy? Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with a discussion about happiness and joy in our lives. In Matthew 5:1 here is what the Bible says,
“One day as he saw the crowds gathering Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him and he began to teach them. He said, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him. For the kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the whole earth.”
Happiness, according to Jesus, gets to the central truth of divine favor. Jesus is going to list out several different characteristics of people have who have experienced God's divine favor in their lives. First of all, Jesus talks about what's going on inside us as being probably as important, if not more important, than what's going on outside of us.
Happiness fundamentally is something that happens inside of you and not just something that happens outside of you. Secondly, the Bible defines happiness as something more than pleasure. Most of the time when we talk about happiness we are talking about pleasure. What makes us feel good? Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is talking about how God sees us, and therefore how we truly are, not about how we feel in that. Does that make sense? God sees you as blessed when you are poor in spirit. God sees you as blessed when you are merciful. God views you as blessed, as happy and fulfilled, in these characteristics.
The first principle that Christ lays out if we want to experience this inner joy and happiness from the inside out is-- realize your need for God. Matthew 5:3 says “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him and the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Do you see it there? They realize their need for him.
I love how the Message translation reads. “You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope; with less of you there is more of God and his rule.” Jesus often would take our concepts in the Beatitudes and will turn them upside down. Most of us don't feel blessed and we don't feel happy and we don't feel joyful when we are at the end of our rope. But he says with less of you, there will be more of God. In other words, God will meet you there.
Now Jesus is sitting there talking to a group of people who were not the most spiritually elite at that time and place. These were individuals much like you and I. They were common people. Many of them had their shoulders slumped carrying the weight of guilt and religious failure. They had made mistakes. They didn't have it all together. As Jesus speaks to these people he says, “Listen, there is hope for you who are poor in spirit.” There is hope for you if you feel like you are barely hanging on. There is hope for you if you feel like you are not worthy or not good enough and you'll never be good enough.
There is hope for you because the kingdom of heaven is yours. God came to bring the kingdom to you. He's giving us hope and encouragement today.
Listen, you are always going to have things coming into your life that you can't control. There are always going to be problems and obstacles. There are always going to be needs, conflict and tension. If your happiness is only defined by what is outside of you coming at you – you're never, ever going to be happy.
So where then is happiness found? It's not in yourself. Jesus himself said that if you want to find happiness you have to lose your life to find it. In other words, surrender your life to God and in that act of surrender true joy can begin to well up inside of you. Truly, happiness itself isn't found in seeking it. Happiness is found in seeking God. If you just define happiness as pleasure, then I don't know if God is that concerned with happiness. But if you are defining happiness as something much deeper than that--divine favor, God's blessing inside of you no matter what happens outside of you, delighting and finding pleasure and God himself, he's very concerned about that. In fact, I think that God's greatest desire for us is to find our happiness and joy in him and not in all the worldly things that surround us.
Then we would delight in him.
Will you give Jesus a chance? Will you give his teaching a chance and really put it into practice in your life? See if happiness doesn't begin to dwell in your life from the inside out as you experience more of who God is.
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