Happiness is not a goal; it is a side effect.

‘Don’t worry, be happy’ was a popular song in the late 80s when I was a teenager.  It became my manta and my main goal in life was to be happy.  But I was not a happy teenager, I had a difficult home situation and was emotionally unstable.  Due to this the ‘don’t worry, be happy’ movement for me became about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain at all costs.  Seeking short term pleasure led me to make loads of terrible decisions with long last consequences and did not make me happy, it made me more miserable.  Happiness itself should not be our goal and especially looking for it in a quick fix, but joy and long-lasting happiness is a side effect or by-product of a life lived well and with purpose.

The dictionary defines happiness as a feeling of joy, pleasure, or good fortune. Being pleased, content, glad and of good wellbeing.  It is a nice definition but I think the key to happiness is not what ‘happy’ is but what causes us to be happy.

If your happiness is dependent on external sources, it will be unpredictable and changeable.  If you rely on your family, your kids, your job, your successes, your house, your possessions, your holidays to give you feelings of happiness and joy, you will ultimately experience disappointment and unhappiness as those things can never satisfy us long term or they will let us down at some point. 

But if you focus instead of living a good life, a life with God at the centre, in service to other people, caring about yourself and looking after your physical, emotional and spiritual needs you will be happy and have a type of happiness that is not dependent on the circumstances of your life but a happiness that has an eternal perspective. 

Life is filled with a mixture of emotions and our happiness levels do fluctuate with our experiences. There will be special days when we feel delighted and elated with life. There are good days when we feel content and merry and bad days when we are stressed and sad. Sometimes these things happen all at the same time. There will be times when we suddenly feel sad at a happy event or have a moment of laughter in the middle of grief.  Our humanity allows us to experience a range of emotions, but a solid baseline of happiness unrelated to any situation you find yourself in, will keep bringing you back to a joyful and grateful wellbeing.

That baseline of happiness is the joy and freedom of a relationship with Jesus. The joy of knowing Jesus is what allowed the disciples to sing in prison and rejoice in hardship and under persecution. Their happiness was because of their knowledge of and their faith in Jesus. Happiness was never their goal but it was a side effect of their faith.

“I have neither tongue nor pen to express to you the happiness of such as are in Christ.”

Samuel Rutherford

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