The year 2017 will go down as one of the tough ones for America.
Hurricane Harvey was like that crazy uncle who came to visit but just wouldn’t leave. He rolled into Matagorda Bay, hung around Rockport, then left to gather up some more water to dump on Houston and southeast Texas. By the time he was finished the Lone Star state looked like it was trying to impersonate New Orleans. Then Irma blew through the Leeward Islands and set her sights on Florida. It was a near miss that wrecked our nerves.
Meanwhile, a pubescent little dictator playing with his new missiles and atomic weapons dominated the news from Southeast Asia. There are few things more terrifying than a homicidal maniac with his thumb over the button of a thermo-nuclear device.
And then there was Vegas.
It’s been a rough couple of months especially when you sprinkle in a nation divided by acrimonious social activism.
It’s as if 2017 looked down on America and said, “Wipe that smile off your face young man or I’ll wipe it off for you.” Sure enough, it did.
How do we get our smiles back? Where can we go to rediscover authentic lasting happiness?
I don’t want threadbare clichés and tired platitudes. Don’t try to “cheer me up.” There are few things more annoying than someone trying to cheer you up when you are genuinely hurting.
Proverbs 25:20 Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda,
Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.
I don’t want to sing songs to troubled hearts. But I would like to learn the secret of singing songs from a troubled heart.
Is it possible to find joy even when our circumstances refuse to allow it?
I did a Google search to find “The Secret of Happiness” and turns out the Internet is filled with suggestions about what will make you happy.
Some advice can be fairly superficial.
One article suggested the following six steps to happiness:
Play some tunes
Focus on people
Do something nice
Yeah, there’s probably some truth in there, but I don’t’ think you want to share those pearls of wisdom with the people in Houston.
Imagine saying to some poor guy with a house full of water, “Go outside, sweat a little, listen to your tunes, sleep in, focus on people, and do something nice!”
They are likely to drown you in the brackish water that is in their living room.
Other writers are more thoughtful.
Everyone seems to say that happiness isn’t money.
You do know that, right?
Ask the typical person on the street, “Will money make you happy?” Most will tell you, “No.”
When you press them they aren’s sure why they say it.
Maybe its because they’ve heard a lot of friends say it. Or it could be that we all know someone with lots of money that seems genuinely miserable. We also know that whenever we get a little more money the euphoria wears off. Turns out I can outspend whatever I make.
So I’ll say “No, money is not the key to happiness.
But then I spend my life chasing more money. Why is that?
Money won’t buy happiness but not having enough money can be miserable too. So I know that when I don’t have enough it’s a whole lot harder to be happy.
I once heard a comedian say, “Money isn’t the key to happiness but I always felt that if I had enough money I could have the key made.”
Everyone seems to know that another person won’t make us happy.
“Do other people make us happy?”
“Why do you say that?”
I think we know ourselves. If we can’t be happy in our own skin then someone else won’t fix that.
Still, it sure does seem harder to maintain a lasting joy when you are alone all the time. If I had more friends I would be less lonely. If I were less lonely I think I’d be more happy.
Everyone seems to know happiness doesn’t come through satisfying longing.
John Stuart Mill said, “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.”
The odd thing about a longing is that when you feed the craving it grows. Our appetite never says, “Thank you, that’s just enough. I’ll never bother you again.”
Nope, that monster will lie and say its full and then come roaring back for even more next time.
We know that. And yet, we still spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to satiate cravings.
Everyone seems to know that happiness won’t be captured by chasing it.
Thoreau said, “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
We seem to know that and yet “The pursuit of happiness” is listed as one of our inalienable rights
As I read through these insights I started to realize that there is a strange contradiction between what we know about happiness and what we do to try to get it.
Ok, we know what won’t produce happiness. But what will?
Two themes seemed to recur through the material I read.
Happiness is somehow tied to FREEDOM
Happiness is somehow tied to CONTENTMENT.
My mom used to say, “The wealthy person is not the one that has the most, but the one that needs the least.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”
When we feel truly free and when we feel content then we can know what real joy feels like.
I was reading through the book of Philippians and noticed that it’s probably the happiest book in the New Testament. The words “joy” and “rejoice” are littered throughout the text.
But here’s the thing. The guy that wrote this letter was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and at the time of the writing, he was awaiting trial before Emperor Nero, one of the most sinister characters in the history of the world.
The writer of this little letter had no freedom and by every measure we use, he should have had zero contentment.
And yet here is a man filled with happiness.
What’s the deal? Do contentment and freedom have nothing to do with happiness? Or could it be that we’ve missed the bigger question: “Where do I go to find contentment and freedom?”
Maybe the sage philosophers are right about contentment and freedom being tied to happiness, but maybe they just didn’t know where to look for them.
Listen to what that ancient prisoner wrote in chapter four of his letter to the Philippians,
4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Now there’s a secret to happiness that few seem willing to consider.