Have you ever met someone who said, “I really don’t want to be happy. Happiness may be good for some people, but it isn’t really good for me”?
Most people, deep down inside, want to be happy. It’s even in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Someone has said there are two things that are true of every person: we all want to be happy, and we’re all going to die.
Augustine said, “Everyone, whatever his condition, desires to be happy.” And French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.”
You may be surprised to know that God wired us that way. According to the Bible, we can be happy. According to the Bible, we should be happy. We just need to look for it in the right place.
The problem is, however, that far too many people look for happiness in the wrong place. And ultimately they conclude that if they don’t find it there, then happiness cannot be found.
For example, we will not find happiness in personal possessions. They can improve our lives, but they won’t bring us personal happiness. They can make our lives more comfortable, but they won’t bring us the real happiness we’re searching for. The Bible says in Proverbs, “Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human desire is never satisfied” (27:20 NLT).
Also, being beautiful or handsome will not bring personal happiness. In 2018, Americans spent $16.5 billion on cosmetic surgery. Some experts believe the rise of cosmetic surgery is due to the selfie. We’re taking more photos of ourselves than ever before and use Photoshop, Instagram filters, and other enhancements to look our best.
The problem is that we can always find someone more handsome or beautiful than we are. So physical attractiveness will not make us happy.
Having relationships will not make us happy, either. We’re wired for relationship. We’re wired to have someone whom we’ll love and marry one day. That is not a bad thing. But if you think that marriage will make you happy, then you’re in for a big shock (maybe even before the honeymoon is over). You’re asking someone to do something they simply cannot do: meet all the needs of another person.
Then there is the pursuit of pleasure. Pursuing pleasure never will bring personal happiness. That doesn’t mean we can’t have happiness in pleasure. There are many fine pleasures in life that are good. But then there are perverse pleasures, pleasures that are sinful. The Bible even speaks of “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
There can be a little fun in that pleasure for a time, but then come the repercussions of it. That is why the Bible says that she “who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). In fact, living for pleasure is one of the least pleasurable things you can do. It’s been said that the best cure for hedonism is an attempt to practice it.
So if happiness doesn’t come from those things, then where does it come from? Where do we find personal happiness? The answer is simple: the only place to find real, lasting happiness is in a relationship with God.
C. S. Lewis put it this way: “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way. … God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself.”
The people who know God are the happiest people. Now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have sadness if you’re a Christian. Sadness has its place, especially when you’re mourning someone you love. It’s a process in which we have to cry out to God and deal with these things. But even in the midst of sorrow, even in the midst of mourning, you can still have a deep-seated happiness. It doesn’t come from what you have or don’t have. It comes from knowing God.
In fact, there are 2,700 passages in the Bible containing words like joy, happiness, pleasure, laughter, gladness, feasting and celebration.
When the apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians, he was living in Rome. The Rome of Paul’s day was a much different place. Nero was in power, probably the worst of the Caesars. He became progressively more bloodthirsty and took perverse pleasure in torturing and murdering followers of Jesus Christ.
This is where Paul was living, yet he was brimming with joy. And he was writing to the Christians in Philippi about joy while he was chained to a Roman guard day and night. His case was coming up shortly, and he didn’t know how it would turn out. He might be acquitted. He might be beheaded. He originally wanted to preach in Rome, but he ended up as a prisoner there.
He was in the most miserable circumstances imaginable, yet he was rejoicing. Paul’s life shows us that despite our circumstances, we can have great happiness.
The reality is that we always will be able to find someone or something to blame for our sour and bitter outlook on life: This person did this to me. That person did that. This other person said this.
Yet the person who is in conflict with himself or herself generally is in conflict with everyone else. So we need to get right with God. We need to forgive those who have wronged us. We need to start thinking biblically. Then we will discover true and lasting happiness.