By Pastor Jennifer Beil
America is obsessed with happiness. You do not have to take my word for it. Countless articles have been written and studies conducted around this subject and our preoccupation with happiness. Their conclusion?
We are overly preoccupied with happiness and that is making us less happy. Happiness is on my mind right now because we are in the season of Lent, a season not known for happiness.
I have also begun to shop for my boys’ Easter baskets and our church’s Easter Jubilee. I have been thinking about the happiness on my kids’ faces when they see their basket and the happiness of kids participating in the Easter Jubilee.
Happiness is on my mind right now because of the people that I talk with. I hear the problems and worries of those who come for food. I hear the disappointment and anger of those who feel abandoned by family and God. I hear the pain of those who have suffered for years. I hear the longing of those who desire genuine
Happiness is also on my mind because several people from different circles have recommended The Book of Joy to me. In this book, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu describe their paths through pain, suffering, violence, and racism to joy. It is an inspiring book and I recommend it to you.
Aristotle said that happiness came from living a virtuous life. In the 18th century, happiness went from being good to feeling good. Happiness today is about
the absence of pain and suffering. Today, there is an unprecedented level of economic prosperity. We have warm homes, flushing toilets, access to healthcare, and restrictions against child labor. Yet, researchers say we are unhappy. They theorize this is because we have the luxury to focus on our happiness instead of survival. Happiness cannot last. You cannot maintain happiness. You are happy when you watch a loved one open the present you bought them. You are happy as you eat chocolate. You are happy when you sit down for a meal with friends. These things that bring happiness do not last, though. You cannot bask in a single moment forever. The pleasure of chocolate goes away or leaves you with a stomachache. The more we focus on being happy, the more we are aware of the normal things of life that do not bring happiness.
The better goal is to seek joy. Joy does not depend upon circumstances, it runs deeper. Joy comes from hope. Joy comes from relationships that feed your soul. Joy comes from faith in God. Joy weathers the suffering in this world. Joy is not an emotion, it is an attitude of the heart. Happiness cannot last because you cannot avoid pain and suffering. Joy, though, acknowledges that good can come out of one’s pain and suffering. Think about pregnancy and childbirth. A pregnant woman experiences months of discomfort and pain. The end of pregnancy is often hours
of great pain. Through it all there is great joy as all of the discomfort and pain leads to the birth of her baby.
How do we cultivate more joy in our lives? Simple things like living generously, being in genuine relationship with others, and focusing less on ourselves and our suffering. The Dalai Lama was exiled from his home in Tibet and lives as a refugee in India. He should be bitter and angry about the injustices done to him. He is not. Instead, he focuses on the many blessings like education and travel that he would not have experience if not for the exile.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said about the importance of generosity, “The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”
The season of Lent is not known to be a season of great happiness. It is a season of solemnity and acknowledgment of our mortality, sinfulness, and dependence upon God. During Lent we are encouraged to give something up to simplify our lives, removing whatever keeps us from God. We end Lent by going to the cross and remembering the extreme suffering Christ went through to save us.
On Easter, we rise again, full of great joy and happiness as we remember that out of great suffering comes our salvation, even in the greatest despair and loss there was and is always hope.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Romans I also pray for you:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that
you may overflow with hope by the
power of the Holy Spirit.