Sometimes we can appear to have it all but lack the one thing we desire the most: happiness. I recently ran into a successful friend who on the exterior seems happy, but within a short few minutes she let me know that she’s actually not happy. How often do we give off the appearance of happiness without having an ounce of it? Happiness cannot be bought or achieved yet it is a result of a purchase or an accomplishment. It is temporary but a necessary pleasure of the human experience. If only happiness could be a constant state of our existence then we would cease to chase it with purchases, achievements or experiences.
After much personal soul searching, I realized there are two types of happiness – the first is fleeting and the second is named ‘true happiness’ that is seemingly disguised as maturity. The first type of happiness is the rush you get during the beginning stage of a romantic relationship. True happiness may be likened to the second year of dating. It is less rousing and is more of a mature admiration of what you have.
The pursuit of happiness is a ceaseless endeavour lasting a lifetime. Although we, from time to time have allowed true happiness to make its appearance in our lives, we tend to spend most of our energy on the pursuit of the first type of happiness – the type of happiness experienced through a purchase, an adventure, a crazy party, a celebration and so on. This type of happiness is a result of all these things, yet it is a momentary emotion, and within time leaves you hungering for more.
True happiness is a conscious choice rooted in gratitude. It’s seeing and experiencing happiness in the less momentous things in life. It’s appreciating a conversation with a friend, enjoying a decadent meal with family, a robin perched outside your window or the overzealous kisses from a dog. It is also the adventure, the crazy party, the celebration and so on. It is the result of embracing both the ‘big event’ and the everyday occurrences. When the party is over and you’re back at home alone, the joy leaves and you long for the next ‘big event’ to give you that ‘happiness high.’
Once we’ve experienced the ‘happiness high’ or as C.S. Lewis says, once you’ve tasted joy you’ll want more. “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is” (C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy). We mistake the thrill of a new purchase or an epic weekend for joy/happiness but as time passes the feeling slips away. Thinking we have control over generating our own happiness is a deception at its finest. Joy is never in our power but always begins with our choice.
In wanting to discover what the Bible has to say about joy, I noticed that Jesus talks about having full and complete joy. This idea of having full and complete joy doesn’t fit with my experience of fleeting moments of happiness. How does one have joy that is full and complete? It obviously isn’t based on emotions since they are conditional on favourable experiences.
Right before Jesus suffers, He talks about joy – complete joy. Jesus tells His disciples that they will see Him no more and yet they will see Him again. That they will experience grief but the grief will turn into a joy that no one can take away. They will have this relationship with Him where they can ask for anything in His name and receive what they’ve asked for and that their joy will be complete (John 16:16-24). Complete joy is rooted in a shared experience of trust and love. The Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves us and we experience complete joy when we remain in His love by obeying the command – “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Complete joy is found in a relationship that isn’t without grief but requires trust and obedience.
True happiness is a mature acceptance of finding joy and gratitude in all things. It makes its appearance in the temporal events like vacations and celebrations but disappears unless true happiness sweeps in through gratitude. The type of joy that completes us is found in the One who loves us beyond anything we can even fathom. Jesus promises that His love will fill our hungry hearts. Complete joy isn’t perpetual bliss void of discontentment but it is the assurance that you’re loved. So that even in discontentment your heart may be reassured that God’s love isn’t just an overused phrase (God loves you!) but an emotional refuelling of your soul that comes in the form of gratitude and the kindness of others. His love completes us and His complete joy is found in a relationship of trust and obedience.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
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