Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet recently. I actually started this post around four weeks ago now but it’s been a struggle to complete it. It seems it’s difficult to write about something you’re not experiencing very much. When I was on holiday in Tenerife I saw a plaque in one of those little shops that sell souvenirs. It said:
‘If you choose to be happy no one can take it away from you.’
Well that got me thinking (as these things do) is that true? I mean what is happiness anyway? Happiness seems to have been just outside of my reach for a while. Sometimes I feel at ease but there seems to be an underlying sadness pretty much all of the time.
I know I’m sad (pun intended) but I looked it up 😝 and the dictionary says that happiness is a state of pleasure or contentment. I guess if you can choose to be content in every situation (that’s biblical right? – Phil 4:11) maybe no one can take happiness from you? But pleasure?? Nope, I reckon that would be difficult (if not impossible) to maintain constantly, especially if you ever have anything to do with any other human beings. People have a way of stealing your happiness at times. I guess maybe we’re (or at least I’m) also good at throwing it away ourselves for some strange reason?
I recently discovered that you can actually do an online course called ‘The Science of Happiness’. I was even considering signing up as I’m really interested to know what they have to say. So if that’s true and happiness is a science that would be different from a choice and it would mean all the correct conditions have to be in place – I’m no scientist but I think that’s right. One article I looked at talks about the 7 habits of happy people. It says that you need:
- someone you can share your heart with
- to care for others in some way
- to exercise and eat well
- to find your flow (that’s a whole other post – if you want to know about flow look up Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
- to engage with spirituality (faith?)
- to find and use your strengths
- to keep a positive mindset and show gratitude.
Well I reckon I’ve made a good start on a few of those but definitely have work to do on others. So maybe that’s somewhere to begin – although I think some of them are harder than they sound. Sharing your heart, for example, requires complete trust in another person, it means being sure that they see and know who you really are and love you with all your faults and failings. That person can be hard to find and even when you find them it can be difficult to get enough of their time.
Back at the beginning of this summer we were working through a devotional as a family about choosing joy. Honestly, some parts of it were better than others but while we were doing it we googled joy and found this definition on Theopedia which I really liked:
‘Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.’ Theopedia.com
Some definitions pretty much put joy down as great happiness but others (especially in Christian terms) highlight some differences between joy and happiness. Some would argue that you can have joy even in really tough, painful times when you’re definitely not happy. I guess for me having joy is about choosing to trust God, trusting that He is good all the time and has good plans for you – even when life is pretty crappy. It’s about turning your heart towards Him and looking to Him for fulfilment rather than looking to people for that. It’s about being content in the moment knowing that He is in control and will provide all that you need. It’s about being confident that He has your best interests at heart and is able to accomplish everything that He has planned for you. It’s about having hope in Him, not an airy-fairy wishful hope but a hope grounded in faith that He will come through on His promises to you.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
I’m not suggesting it’s easy to stay in that mindset but in recent months I’ve definitely found my joy has come from spending time in His presence. I honestly don’t know where else to go sometimes – when it feels like life is falling apart or just too much and you can’t go on in your own strength He is there waiting to pick you up and carry you through. So in that sense I guess joy is a choice, a choice to turn towards God, and contentment will come from that choice too, if not pleasure. Strength also comes from choosing joy (Neh 8:10). I suppose happiness may well be a science – maybe one day I’ll get all those conditions lined up and I can let you know.
In the meantime I guess I’ll keep on trying to choose joy and hope in Papa that happiness will follow. It’s so difficult at times to trust completely – especially when I want His plans to line up with mine but I know He knows me and loves me better than anyone so I’ll keep trying to surrender to His plans and have confidence that He knows best.