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WHAT IS HAPPINESS?

Epictetus, the ancient philosopher said, “If a man is unhappy,

this must be his own fault, for God made all men to be happy.

” A Christian writer, St. Bernard, said something similar.

“Nothing can work me damage except myself; the harm that

I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer

but by my own fault.” These two men represent the internal

philosophy of happiness. External mean nothing, and need

have no effect upon the happiness of a person, is their view.

External evil is recognized as a reality, but one does not need

to let it penetrate his inner being. Epictetus, for example, said,

“I must die, but must I die sorrowing? I must be put in chains.

Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Can I be

prevented from going with cheerfulness and contentment?

But I will put you in prison. Man, what are you saying? You

may put my body in prison, but my mind not even Zeus himself

can overpower.” Here is a rare example of how even a pagan

slave can, by the power of positive thinking, demonstrate the

human capacity for internal happiness without the externals

usually associated with happiness.

The facts of life and history show that this is possible, but it is

also highly improbable that more than a few rare individuals

can completely ignore the externals of life. The vast majority

of people depend upon externals almost exclusively. They

grasp at things as the only source of satisfaction. People

really believe that more money can bring happiness in spite of

the fact that the suicide rate is higher among the haves than

among the have nots. Abdalrahman the Khalif had thousands

of wives, and millions upon millions of wealth, but this is what

he wrote near the end of his life: “I have now reigned above

50 years in victory or peace. I have been beloved of my

subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies.

Riches and honor, power and pleasure have waited on my call,

nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to

my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the

days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my

lot: They amount to fourteen.”

No amount of externals can guarantee happiness, yet man’s

natural tendency is to search for happiness in that direction.

Menhave a hard time believing that there is any hope of

happiness apart from externals. Aristotle represented the

Greek view when he said that the blessed life was impossible

to the diseased, the poor, and the slave. Samuel Johnson

had a close friend who said that his sister-in-law was really a

happy woman. This made Johnson mad, and he replied like the

brute he could be, “If your sister-in-law is really the contented

being she professes herself, sir, her life gives the lie to every

research to humanity; for she is happy, without health,

without beauty, without money, and without understanding.

” He went away growling, “I tell you the woman is ugly, and

sickly, and foolish and poor, and would it not make a man

hang himself to hear such a creature say she was happy?”

The very idea of being happy without the values so treasured

by his materialistic heart made him angry. It does not seem

fair to the secularist who has struggled for all the externals of

wealth, power, and fame to see people who are happy

who have not made the struggle.

Paul would have made him angry by his words in Phil. 4:11-12.

Paul said, “…For I have learned to be content whatever the

circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know

what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being

content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,

whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul’s happiness was not

dependent upon what happened, or what he had. This means

that Paul’s happiness was internal. Paul did not have control

over the externals of his life, but like everybody else does, he

had control over how he would react to life internally.

If it is only going to be a happy new year for us if we get more

stuff, and all goes well, then we are living on a different level

than Paul was on. This does not mean we should not get

more stuff, and that we should not strive to make all go well.

Paul advised Christians to live peaceably with all men, and to

prevent all the negatives of life that they can. But if this is

your only level of happiness you are too controlled by the

externals, and changes can quickly rob you of your joy in

Christ. We need to see the externals as fringe benefits, and

not the base salary of the Christian life. The foundation is to

be internal and attitudinal rather than external and material.

Jesus and Paul agree here completely. Happiness does not

depend on what happens, but on how you face all that

happens. Jesus is saying in the beatitudes that you can be

happy even if you are experiencing many negative externals.

At this point we need to take a detour off the main road to

deal with the problem that Christians have with reconciling

being happy and miserable at the same time. One of the major  

problems the Christian has in the pursuit of happiness is the

sense of failure that comes due to times of depression and

other unhappy feelings. Many feel guilty for not being happy in

the Lord. Their unhappiness is magnified by their guilt. They

say, “I know I should be happy, but I just can’t seem to feel

the joy of the Lord.” The first thing we need to do is clarify the

Christians right to be miserable on a variety of levels.

Jesus wept because of people’s rejection of God’s grace. This

makes it clear that the Christian has every right to be unhappy

over lost people. If a Christian feels guilty about being sad

over this lost world, he is feeling guilty for being Christlike, for

Jesus wept over this same thing.

Jesus also wept over the sorrow of death and the lose of a

loved one. He was very unhappy also with the hypocrisy of the  

Pharisees, and the injustice of man to man. He felt rotten

about the way the  temple was being used to rip off the poor,

and how widows were being taken advantage of, and their

houses being taken from them. Add up all the unhappy

feelings of Jesus over the fallen nature of man, and you have

a host of legitimate reasons to be unhappy as a Christian. In

fact, it is unchristian if you are never sad and unhappy about

a fallen and lost world.

There are legitimate reasons to be unhappy, and it is folly to

feel guilty for them. We could list all of Paul’s negative

emotions as well, but it is not necessary, for if our Lord had

good reason to be unhappy with much of life, who can be so  

presumptuous to expect to live on a higher emotional level

then Him? Anyone who expects to be feeling happy all the time

is trying to live in a world that does not yet exist.

The only way to get there in the present is by insanity and the

loss of touch with reality. Some unhappiness is just part of the

price we pay for living in a fallen world. We have to get it out

of our head that Christian happiness means freedom from all

care. It that is the case, the average cow is happier than the

average Christian. It was because Paul cared so much for the  

churches that he went through so many negative emotions of

frustration and anxiety.

What we are dealing with here is a paradox. It is the reality of

being able to be miserable and happy at the same time. Paul

was often miserable over the problems in the church, and yet

he had an inner sense of well being that made him happy. This

means that Christian happiness is not always and emotion.

One might be dominated by the weeping with those who

weep, and so they would feel sad at that point. This does not

rob them of contentment. Paul did not have the same emotion

when he was feasting with his friends as he had when he was

in the dungeon starving and alone. Paul is not saying that one

is just the same as the other. He would have to be a pet rock

to be in such a state.

Paul had all kinds of emotions, just as Jesus did, but his point is

that he had an attitude of contentment within regardless of his

emotions. When he said that Demas had forsaken him he was

feeling bad about it. He was not indifferent to circumstances

and saying its all fine with him regardless of what was

happening. But even when he felt bad about circumstances,

he still had his contentment in Christ which circumstances

could not change. This calls for great discipline to be truly

happy on this level. We get a glimpse into the depth of what it

means to be Christlike by looking at this inner contentment of

Paul. Look at the reasons for why we are so often discontented

in life.

1. Selfishness. We want things to be our way and good for us.

When they are not we are discontent. We will all have some  

unhappiness because we always want to get our own way.

2. Envy. This makes us discontent because we see the

possessions and gifts of others almost as if they were stolen

from us, and we resent it, and so feel unhappy.

3. Covetousness. We have a strong desire for more than we

now have, and this robs us of the enjoyment of what we do

have. No matter how much we get it is never enough, for there

is so much more to covet. There is always an emptiness that

can never be fully filled because we covet more.

Paul was happy because he did not have to wrestle with these

vices. He had conquered them, and so he was content with his

life. A happy life does depend on our conquering all the

temptations of life that fill us with discontent. This means that

it is hard work to be happy, for you have to die to self and all

that the world appeals to in us.

It is important for us to be aware that almost everything that

people do is because they believe it will lead to happiness. The

Prodigal Son did not take his money and go off to live in the

pleasure of sin with any other motive than the desire to be

happy. Men just do not pursue evil for evil’s sake. Few if any

could care less about pleasing Satan. All they want is

happiness for themselves. Men chose the path that leads to

misery only because they are convinced it leads to happiness.

Sin would have nothing to offer man if it did not hold out the  

deceptive offer of happiness.

Satan competes for the souls of men by offering and imitation

of everything God offers for man’s true happiness. From the

start this was the case. The first temptation was an offer of

greater happiness by eating the forbidden fruit. Satan is

constantly trying to under sell God, and he offers to men what

he claims is greater happiness at less cost. What the sinner

fails to think of is that it is God who does the ultimate billing,

and the cost of Satan’s happiness is eternal unhappiness. No

one who really knew the whole story could purchase

temporary happiness at such a cost, but Satan is the master  

deceiver.

It is the purpose of the Christian to distinguish between the

false happiness of Satan, and the true happiness of God, and then

demonstrate its superiority in life to enlighten men. This is part

of what being the light of the world means.

A college girl told me that non-Christian kids on campus think

that the Christians are dull and boring. A cab driver said he

didn’t like church conventions coming to town because

Christians come with the Ten Commandments and a ten dollar

bill, and they don’t break either of them. His concept of

happiness was the pleasure of sin and the spending of money.

The Christian cannot please men on that level, but Christians

ought to make it clear that it is a joy to be a Christian. The

world should be impressed with Christian happiness.

When the non-Christian says we are all seeking the same

thing, we should agree, but be able to show him that the

happiness the Christian finds in Christ is of a much better

quality. The problem in doing this is simply that Christians have

not given enough thought to what happiness really is, and so

they are on the same level with the world in their search for it

in many different directions. Man is a complex being, and every

desire, and every different kind of disposition leads to a

different theory of happiness.

The ancient writer Cicero said that in his day there were 20

rival opinions concerning the source of true happiness. Varro

was able to enumerate 280 such opinions. There are probably

more opinions on the way to happiness than on any other

subject, and the problem is that there is some truth to every

one of them. Happiness has a thousand faces to match the

diversity of personalities, gifts, and natures. The poetess

Priscilla Leonard wrote, Happiness is like a crystal, Fair and

 

exquisite and clear, Broken in a million pieces, Shattered,

scattered far and near, Now and then along life’s pathway, Lo!

Some shining fragments fall; But there are so many pieces, No

one ever finds them all.

You may find a bit of beauty, Or an honest share of wealth,

While another just beside you, Gathers honor, love or health.

Vain to choose or grasp unduly, Broken is the perfect ball;

And there are so many pieces, No one ever finds them all.

Yet the wise as on they journey Treasure every fragment clear,

Fit them as they may together, Imaging the shattered sphere.

Learning ever to be thankful, Though their share of it is small;

For it has so many pieces, No one ever finds them all.

There is no doubt that she has in this poem expounded a basic

truth which the Scriptures support. Being a Christian, and

receiving God’s best, which is salvation through Jesus Christ

does not supply one with every kind of happiness. The Bible

makes it clear that there are different gifts, and different

degrees of talent among Christians.

There is probably no Christian who has ever had everything

that can be had to increase their usefulness and happiness.

If we could be happier with a gain of anything either internal

or external, we are not yet in possession of perfect happiness.  

Complete happiness is impossible, therefore, in this life. That

is what heaven is all about.  Even Jesus knew sorrow, pain,

and grief in His human life, and, therefore, the Christian goal

for this life is never absolute happiness at any price.

The Christian must recognize the limits of the happiness that

can rightly be theirs in God’s will. Sometimes God’s will requires

us to be unhappy, and this then brings us back to where we

begin, and that is that Christian happiness is basically internal,

and it is in the character of the Christian. Someone said,

“Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of

traveling.” The blessedness Jesus speaks of in the beatitudes

is an internal attitude which completely contradicts the

expected response to the external facts. The directiono f

Christian happiness is within rather than external, but because

many pagans have also found this to be the best source of

happiness, the Christian view cannot be that only.

Therefore, Pascal says, “Happiness is neither without nor

within us, it is in God, both without us and within us.”

This sounds like a circular argument that says it is neither, and

also both. It does say this, but so as to lift the subject of

happiness out of the realm where man is the center to where

God is the center. This is where the Christian view of

happiness becomes distinct. In the pagan view even their

gods are means to human happiness. In the Christian view

happiness for man is not an end in itself, but is a means to the

glory of God. In Christian theology man’s chief end is to glorify

God and enjoy Him forever. Glorifying and enjoying God is

the highest happiness man can attain. Man’s happiness,

therefore, is only uniquely Christian and Christlike when God

receives the glory.

There is never any doubt when you examine the life of Christ

as to who is the center of His life. In His prayer He taught us

to say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” God was the center of

His life, the source of His power, and the end of all His acts.

We very subtly are lead into a sub-Christian view of life when

we make God a means to fulfilling our own ends. The very

study of, and longing for, happiness can lead us in this

direction, and, therefore, we must ever keep in mind that the

essence of Christian happiness is in making God and His glory

the end of all we are and all we do.

Ernest M. Ligon in The Psychology of Christian Personality says

that many studies have led to the conclusion that integration of

personality is a basic key to good health in all its aspects, and

thus, to the happy life. What is integration? He writes, “Briefly,

integration is the condition of a personality in which all of the

emotional attitudes are harmonious and mutually helpful, thus

permitting all of one’s natural energy to be directed toward

end.” This is Paul’s, “This one thing I do.” It is the life with one 

supreme aim and center. Ligon says, “If an individual can

organize his emotional attitudes in such harmony with one

another, that he can direct all of his urges and appetites

about one central purpose, which is always the focus of his

interest and of his attention, we find the peak of efficiency,

and the perfect integration.” When God is that central purpose

we have arrived at the highest happiness life can offer on this

earth.

I read of a big cat who saw a little cat chasing his tail and he

asked why? “Because I am seeking happiness, and when I

catch my tail I will be happy.” The big cat said, “I too have

studied happiness and found it to be in my tail. But I have

observed that when I chase it it keeps running away, but

when I go about my business, it just seems to come after me  

wherever I go.” The point being, the chasing after happiness

can be futile, but just being faithful to your daily duties can

be fruitful in fulfilling your need for happiness. It is not all out

there somewhere, but it is internal, and comes with the

satisfaction of a meaningful life. Paul was not out chasing

happiness. Paul was doing the best he could to fulfill the

calling of God, and the result was contentment in any state.

He did not always feel delighted, or happy in the sense that

he never wept, felt angry or frustrated, or even depressed.

But he was happy that he was in the right place doing what

God wanted him to do.

Happiness for Paul was in knowing he was a tool available to

God to minister to human need. It was both internal as a

sense of peace and contentment, and external because of the

evidence that he was being used. People were changed,

churches were founded, and the kingdom was expanding. The

externals for Paul were fringe benefits, however, and his basic

happiness was the internal contentment of being in Christ,

and being used of Christ. Someone said, “Happiness is life a

butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But

if you turn your attention to others things, it will come and

softly sit on your shoulder.”

Happiness comes from within.

Our attitudes are the key.

No matter what circumstance,

Some good we can always see.

Try positive attitudes.

They’re so easy to create.

In joy and contentment,

Will be your happy fate.

If you do good to others,

You have made a sure-fire start.

It is almost guaranteed,

To put a smile within your heart.

Catherine Marshall has known the deep sorrows of grief, and

the great unhappiness of life going wrong in so many ways,

but she has known also the joy of success in Christian service.

She writes, “I have observed that when any of us embark on

the pursuit of happiness for ourselves, it eludes us. Often I’ve

asked myself, why? It must be because happiness comes to

us only as a dividend, as a gift given us by God. When we

become absorbed in something demanding and worthwhile

above and beyond ourselves, happiness suddenly becomes

ours as a by-product of the self-giving. That should not be a

startling truth, yet I’m surprised at how few people

understand and accept it. Have too many of us made a god of

happiness? Have we been brainwashed by the magazine and

television ads, featuring happiness?”

She sees most Americans interpreting their right to the pursuit

of happiness to mean the right to grab all the power, money,

and pleasure they can get. This leads to some very non-

Christian methods of being happy. Rights need to be dealt

with right, or they become wrongs. Both Jesus and Paul make

it clear that it is more than a right to be happy, it is a duty. It

is part of our commitment to Christ to overcome all that would

make us unhappy. Jeremy Taylor said, “God threatens terrible

things if we will not be happy.” Robert Louis Stevenson said,

“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being

happy.” If we listen to Jesus and Paul, and follow their

example we will find happiness and contentment by knowing

God aour heavenly Father, and by being committed to that

which we know is His will for our lives.

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