"I'm not happy!" I hear it all the time. "We just weren't/aren't happy." "Do what makes you Happy."
"Don't worry, be happy."
I hear it a lot from Christians too. To a mother mourning the loss of her daughter, "Be Happy that she is dancing in Heaven and free from the pain." "Be happy that all of this is happening, because God works all things for good."
While there is truth in those statements our society mis-uses and over-uses happiness way too much. We as a society also expect and down right demand happiness in our life. You hear of marriages ending, people quitting jobs, and major life decisions based on "happiness."
But here is the thing, happiness is an emotion. It is something that we create. We fake it. We idolize it. We yearn for it like a fiend. And we shouldn't. Happiness DOES NOT MATTER! Sure it is a wonderful feeling to be happy. Who doesn't like a daily dose of laughter and happiness? But why stop at happiness when there is something greater still? It is a physical, spiritual, living entity that we have deep within ourselves-hidden and protected. It is what we chase after and yearn for and it is just waiting to come out!
I know that you are probably thinking, that I am crazy right now. I just told you that you have a living entity, something that you were born with and that everyone has but not everyone uses. "But you hate happiness and everyone wants to be happy right? What are suggesting Virginia, that we all act like Eeyore?" Of course not!
What I am sharing with you is far more important, far more valuable, and instead of fleeting it is eternal. I am telling you to seek JOY.
Joy is something that comes when you rely not on your own strength and understanding but when you fully accept and welcome God's hand in your life. It is a gift, a blessing, and a fruit of the spirit. It is not an emotion but something that comes from the depths of your soul and stays there even when you are mourning and SAD. You know, the forbidden thing. The emotion that we are supposed to "chin up" "buck up" "get over" and basically act like it doesn't exist. It is even present when we are so angry that we can spit nails. And it is exactly what you need so that you can overcome the roller coaster of emotions that we all face on a daily/weekly basis.
God did not want us to ignore our emotions. He wanted us to learn how to navigate our reactions to them. He did not want us to wallow in sadness, he wanted us to grieve but to go through the motions of life so that we may find healing in the rhythms that he put into place. He did not want us to judge the goodness of our life on how many times or days that we are "happy." He wanted us to learn to trust Him so that we may find joy in the knowledge that He has your back even if you are in the midst of great difficulty.
Life is not about finding happiness. Life is about living through some really crappy stuff and still being able to be joyful and not bitter. To be able to see the blessings that come from the loss. To be able to see how your trials are actually teaching you things or opening doors that wouldn't have even existed had you not just suffered. It is realizing that everything happens for a reason, and not just saying that "everything happens for a reason" because it is a cool phrase that is socially acceptable. It is finding that reason and then watching as a new chapter of your life unfolds!
James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kind, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Joy is something that you own. It is not something that someone can take, steel, or tarnish. Whereas people can make you very unhappy. Happiness is based on things outside of our control. Sure you can say, "well I choose happiness" but faking it, or forcing it, does not make the emotion stay. In fact it sets you up for more heartache and self loathing because nobody is capable of cultivating happiness 24/7/365. What you do with your unhappiness, now that is where you either cultivate a joyful heart or a spirit of unrest.
So the next time you base a decision on happiness, try to step back and see that happiness is an emotion just like anger. We are taught not to say things, do things, or make rash decisions based on our anger. We are taught not to throw a temper tantrum. But then we encourage and are encouraged to "put on a happy face" and to seek out those things that make us happy, when in reality our focus is totally me-centric and self focused when we think this way.
Nobody wants to see a sour or grumpy countenance all the time. And as I said earlier, when things are really hard it is good to go through the motions especially when you don't feel like doing anything other than hide in your bed. Happy faces are given as daily grades for early education. There are happy face stickers everywhere, bumper stickers, shirts, advertisements, etc. But a happy face does not a happy person make.
Instead of focusing on your happiness and what makes you happy or not, we should really be focusing on Christ. And even if you don't know Him (yet) or are not a Christian, you are a human. Humans need social interaction. We know that babies who are raised in crowded orphanages that do not have daily snuggles do not grow as well as children who do and we know that the children who do not have the interactions are more prone to sickness. When we stop focusing on what makes us happy or unhappy and we start doing and caring for others we are also cultivating that deep seeded Joy. We stop obsessing over what emotion we are feeling when we step outside of ourselves and help someone through a crisis that we have already been through. When we spend time with others and instead of trying to entertain ourselves so that everything is happy, happy, happy, we learn how to go through life with each other in the good times and in the times that just down right stink. We stop expecting things to be "perfect" and we see the value, when we are right in the thick of, the biggest fight, the hardest battle, the greatest loss, and the most devastating news you have ever received.
There are plenty of ways that we feed the Joy within our soul. You can feed it a sugary diet of expected or dramatized happiness, thus making our bodies crave this emotion or us feeling like failures because it is not authentic or lasting. Or we can feed our souls in ways that give us true satisfaction and joy by serving others, loving others-especially when they seem the most undeserving (I mean look at Jesus, after he was beaten to a pulp and nailed to a cross he prayed "forgive them father they know not what they do."). We can also feed our Joy in the simplest of ways-taking care of our bodies. *Our bodies are a temple* So when we pray/meditate, eat healthy foods, exercise, and get enough sleep, learn to recognize emotions (what they are, what they do, how they make us feel/act/think, surrounding ourselves with uplifting people, reading scriptures or uplifting/enjoyable/interesting books, learning something new, and the list goes on and on. But, I really want to emphasize that we receive the biggest pay off when we make other people loved/cared for. When we are able to take the me-centric dependance on happiness and call it out for what it really is, we stop finding fault with all the times that we do not have our drug or idol of happiness, we learn that Joy is far more valuable.
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spiritis love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Note: Happiness is not a fruit of the spirit, food for thought (pun intended, haha).