When comedian Louis C.K. said “Everything’s great and nobody’s happy,” on The Conan O’Brien Show in 2009, he became a prophet for all of us. Written into the Declaration of Independence next to “life” and “liberty,” the pursuit of happiness is one of the building blocks of our nation’s history, and many of us make it a personal life goal as well. However, for most, happiness is fleeting at best.
An APA study shows that one year after becoming paraplegic, accident victims are to shown to be happier than those who have won millions in the lottery. Many of us who walk around with two legs and an able body may wonder at this, but then again, what is it that marks our own attitude? Is it happiness, or frustration, stress and resentment for the circumstances we’ve been placed in? Shouldn’t life be better than this?
Life is hard to begin with—we struggle to get ahead. We work hard to stay on top of our rent. We become frustrated when it seems Mr. or Mrs. Right is nowhere in sight, or our marriage is on the rocks. We get tied up in a dead-end job. We can’t go back to school because we don’t have the money.
Sometimes we become our own roadblock of happiness when we refuse to let go of our right to be discontented. When our circumstances are challenging, sometimes it’s easier to lick our wounds than it is to change our lives. So instead, we blame others, look back to the glory years when times were better, or place all our hope in the future rather than seeking contentment in the present.
Happiness is not easy to find in a cutthroat world.
So, what if we gave up the chase? The United States may be founded on the “unalienable right” to pursue a life of happiness, but in a nation claiming the highest standard of living in history, we still aren’t very happy. There’s always another step up the ladder you need to take before you can consider yourself happy and satisfied. There’s always more.
What if happiness in all it’s short-lived glory wasn’t the goal at all? We see a different theme when we look to Scripture. As God indwells and transforms you, He is more concerned with birthing something far deeper and lasting than mere circumstantial happiness.
In the Bible, the word “happy” is listed within the NASB translation 20 times, but “joy” is listed over 200 times (that doesn’t even include all the times “rejoice” is used). In nearly ever instance the word happiness is used it is connected to circumstances, but when joy is used it relates more strongly to an attitude of the heart. God seems far more concerned that you live in joy rather than basking in the glow of a happiness as it fades like the setting sun.
In John 17, Jesus is praying to the Father, in preparation for his journey to Jerusalem and his subsequent crucifixion. And in the middle of this prayer He shares a profound statement: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13).
Two things immediately stick out here. First, the joy being offered to you is not your own, but Christ’s. Second, Christ’s joy can be experienced in your life today. You do not have to wait until heaven to taste it.
Jesus’ prayer is focused primarily on his upcoming death and return to the right hand of the Father in heaven. He knows His time remaining on earth is short. It is curious that, despite knowing He was leaving His disciples and followers, He doesn’t pray for their safety or protection during the trials He surely knew were coming. No, Jesus prays that they may have His joy made full in themselves.
For good reason, Christians are focused on heaven. Everyone is looking forward to their climb up the stairway to heaven, even if only to avoid going to hell. Churches have honed in on this transactional gospel where you say a few words to become part of the Christian family but continue on in a status quo life. Lost in all this is God’s desire to impact your life today.
Contrary to common belief, real joy in Christ and through Christ is not connected to your circumstances or emotions. This joy isn’t about your financial stability or relationship prospects. It cannot be any of these things because this joy is not your own. Christ is taking over your life, apprehending you, birthing in you holiness, where joy in relationship with Him is a direct outcome.
No question, happiness and joy are interrelated, but what must not be lost is that happiness is based on our current reality, while joy is based on eternity.
Happiness is caught up in the moment. Joy sees the big picture.
Happiness is about what happens to you. Joy is about what is produced in you.
Happiness is defined by the harsh reality of your present circumstances. Joy is defined by the truth of God’s eternal benevolence toward you.
Joy teaches that the worst thing can lead to be the best outcome. The author of Hebrews explains that Christ went to the cross for the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). It wasn’t the death and destruction of the cross where joy was fully realized. Jesus saw past the nails and His own spilled blood to a joy far outweighing them.
The circumstances in your life will never be perfect enough for happiness. But through Christ, His perfect sacrifice and holiness, we can experience a joy-filled life that sees past the brutality of our broken lives.
As you enter into life in this way, you might even become happy again.