Happiness is… The Search Continues

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Did you know that not once in God’s Word are we instructed to seek out happiness?

It’s true!

While searching for the perfect quote to accompany this highly-anticipated second installment of my “Happiness Is…” series (Hahaha! You’re laughing with me, right?), I came across an article in which the author asserts that the pursuit of happiness does not line up with God’s instructions for our lives.¹ “Hunh!” I thought to myself as I was reading the article, “Could this really be?” I decided to do some digging into God’s Word on my own. What I found is enlightening.

Throughout the Bible, we are instructed to seek out many virtues and qualities in life. Some of these treasures to be sought are wisdom (James 1:5), understanding (Proverbs 4:7), peace (Psalm 34:14), good (Amos 5:14), righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11) and humility (Zephaniah 2:3). This list is certainly not exhaustive for the Bible is filled with instructions for living a godly life. Nowhere, however, could I find one direct instruction to seek out happiness.

What does that mean for us? Is God not concerned with our happiness?

Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. First, let’s take a look at the Biblical view of happiness and the source of that happiness.

So, what does God’s Word say about happiness?

In Part One of my “Happiness is…” series, I discussed our desperate pursuit of the objects of our happiness and the fleeting pleasures these objects or people bring. This temporary happiness comes and goes with our ever-changing moods and circumstances. If this type of happiness is all there is, we are doomed for disappointment. The good news is this fickle emotion is not true happiness as revealed in the pages of God’s Word.

The Bible speaks volumes about happiness. There is passage after passage that addresses our joy, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. Here are a few: (Note that depending on the version you are reading, you may not find the word “happy”; often, you will find the word “blessed”.)

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. 

Proverbs 3:13 (NKJV) 

And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.

Proverbs 8:32 (ESV)

He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Proverbs 14:21 (NKJV)

He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.

Proverbs 16:20 (NKJV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!

Psalm 144:15b (NKJV)

But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!

Psalm 68:3 (ESV)

What do you see in these verses?

At first glance, you may think that the “formula” for happiness in the Bible is the same as our own:

US

IF I DO THIS (obtain/do something, go somewhere, etc.), I’LL BE HAPPY.

BIBLE

IF I DO THIS (live righteously, trust God, give to the poor, etc.), I’LL BE HAPPY.

But a closer examination of God’s Word will reveal a stark difference between the two views. You see, in our formula, the goal is happiness. It is the object we seek in all that we do. In the Biblical view of true happiness, the goal is fellowship with the Heavenly Father, seeking His will for our lives and living accordingly. Happiness in this formula is not the goal but rather the by-product, a purposefully designed result of living a life that honors the Lord.

It seems Eleanor Roosevelt had it right!

You see, God is concerned with our happiness. He has a plan for each one of our lives, “plans to prosper [us] and not harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) And “the hope of the righteous brings joy!” (Proverbs 10:28a)

Above all, God longs for all of us to have an intimate relationship with Him. He desires that we trust Him with our lives, that we embrace His love for us and then share that love with others. God loves to bless us and give us “good and perfect gifts” (James 1:17) but His priority for our lives is clear: We must seek Him first in all that we do.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

All these things will be given to you!

God is the Source of true happiness. He is the Giver of our joy. It is a joy that endures, a joy that is unexplainable and a joy unmatched by anything this world has to offer.

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. 

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9

Forget the chase of temporary pleasures. Who needs that drama! Follow the Source of true happiness and the Giver of everlasting joy!

Whew! We found it, my friend. But cling tightly to it for there’s someone out there who’s chomping at the bit to steal your joy. We’ll take a look at how to keep your joy in my next post.

Keep on the look out for Part Three of “Happiness Is…”!

¹Unfortunately, I forgot to save the link to the article I was reading and when I searched for it again, I was not able to find it in order to share it with you.
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Happiness is…

Adobe Spark (2)

As I was scrolling through Facebook on New Year’s Eve reading all the happy wishes for the New Year and all the smack talk over the highly anticipated Rose Bowl (Yay, Dawgs!), I came across a post that brought my scrolling to a screeching halt. It was a simple question asked by a friend from my high school days:

What makes one happy?

I stared at the post for a long time wondering what prompted the question. What circumstances surrounding that person’s life caused such an inquiry? Was he experiencing some deep emotional crisis and seeking clarity and encouragement from his friends and family? Or was he only curious, wondering what responses the question would provoke?

(Funny how Facebook does this to us. Unless you are closely connected to a person, you never truly know the full meaning behind every post. We’re often left to our imaginations which leads to conjecture, which leads to misunderstandings – one of the downfalls of social media. But that may be a topic for another blog post!)

After pondering all the possible reasons for his question, I felt the need to respond. The problem was I didn’t know how to respond. Because I was unsure of the “why” behind the question, I didn’t feel I could give an adequate answer. But, again, the urge to respond was strong. I began to type but quickly backspaced deleting my reply. I began to type a second time. I deleted it, as well.

“What is my problem?” I thought to myself. “Of all people, I should be able to give an answer to a question about happiness. After all, I did just complete a whole year of posts about finding and sharing SMILES!”

I stared at the Facebook post a while longer but ultimately, I moved on feeling a bit defeated. The question, however, has not moved on from me. In fact, it has prompted even more questions:

What is real happiness?

How does one find happiness?

Once you find it, how do you keep it?

How can one be happy in the midst of a sad and troubled world?

AM I COMPLETELY OVERTHINKING THIS?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

The more I ponder, though, the more I realize the importance of knowing the meaning of happiness, the source of happiness and the keys to maintaining happiness.

So, what is happiness?

Take a quick survey on your favorite social media site. Most likely, you’ll find that when asked the question “What is happiness?”, people will respond with an object, a person or a moment. I actually tested this assumption on Facebook. My post simply asked others to finish the sentence “Happiness is…” with the first thing that comes to mind. Here are some of the answers:

“Happiness is an endless supply of dark chocolate.”

“Happiness is family.”

“Happiness is the beach.”

“Happiness is bread.” (I love this one! She’s been on the Keto Diet.)

“Happiness is grandkids.”

I realize I may have skewed the results somewhat by qualifying the responses but even these lighthearted answers from my unsuspecting test subjects (Forgive me, please!) can provide insight into how we, as a society, define happiness. In general, I think many of us view our happiness as being contingent on something or someone.

If I can buy that new car, I’ll be happy.

If I can find a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend, I’ll be happy.

If I get that promotion, I’ll be happy.

If he says that he loves me, I’ll be happy.

If she does this –

If I obtain that –

If –

If –

If –

Thus, if our happiness depends solely on others or on things, the logical conclusion is that happiness is nothing more than a feeling or an emotion. And if that’s the case, boy, are we in trouble! Happiness, as it turns out, is quite fickle. Think about it. What makes me happy today may not necessarily make me happy tomorrow. Let’s say I get that new car I was certain would bring me happiness but I find that after a few weeks of driving it, I really don’t like it. What then? I become dissatisfied and – Bam! I’m unhappy, again.

Surely, the happiness we so desperately pursue is more than a mere ride on the emotional roller coaster of life!

Surely…

Today, I again came across my friend’s Facebook question that prompted me to delve into the true meaning of happiness and to my surprise, I found that I’m not the only one who couldn’t offer an answer. After four days, he’s received only one response. Could it be that we’ve become so jaded by the disappointments in our pursuits of happiness that we no longer believe in the possibility of a happy life? Have we settled for a mediocre life over an abundant and joy-filled life?

Well, my friend, hold on. There is an answer to your question and I have to tell you, it’s a good one! There is hope for happiness and we’ll dig into that hope in my next post.

Keep reading! Part Two of “Happiness is…” will be posted soon!

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 365

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Reason to SMILE #365: A NEW YEAR

It’s New Year’s Eve! The countdown to 2018 has begun. Many of you may be getting all gussied up and will soon be heading out to a New Year’s Eve celebration filled with music, laughter, excitement and fun. Others, like me, are getting all gussied down (Is that a thing?), cozying up on the couch in pajamas and looking forward to a quiet evening with the family. Well, at least, until the neighborhood fireworks begin.

Whatever your plans this New Year’s Eve, please be safe. And remember to look out for the SMILES. They really are all around – in the little moments, the connections with others, the quiet thoughts, the striking revelations, the selfless acts of kindness, the gentle tears, the rays of hope and all the many different gifts God allows in every minute of our lives in order to grow us, mature us, and bring us closer to Him.

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With the new year comes new opportunities for so many SMILES. So keep your eyes peeled. God is always doing something new.

Happy New Year!

A Year of Smiles – Day 364

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Reason to SMILE #364: LOOKING FORWARD

One more day, my friends, and we will be greeting the new year! Are you excited? Are you anxious for a new beginning? Or is it simply another day for you?

For me, New Year’s Day has always been “just another day” or a day off work. WooHoo! A day off work! That’s a SMILE in and of itself. And this year, New Year’s Day falls on a Monday so many of us get a three day weekend. That’s a DOUBLE SMILE! 😉 For many, though, New Year’s Day is the day to start diets and exercise regiments, to give up bad habits, to rid their houses of clutter and to begin their fulfillment of whatever resolutions they have made for the year to come.

Rarely have I made resolutions. I know myself well and I know that even if I have every intention to follow through on my personal commitments, I’ll never make it through the year. (What a sad reflection on my life! 😉 ) But my self-given challenge to find a SMILE for every day of 2017 has changed my attitude a bit. After tomorrow’s SMILE, I will have posted 365 SMILES in 2017 which means I did it. I followed through. And I have truly enjoyed seeking out SMILES this year.

After reflecting on all the SMILES of 2017 and even on the things in my life that didn’t bring a SMILE, as I endorsed in yesterday’s post (Day 363), what resolutions should I make for the year ahead? What can I do differently to better my life in 2018? I’ve come up with a few:

  1. Spend more time with God – I read my daily devotional and study God’s Word when writing on specific topics but I feel like I’m still drinking the milk as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3:2. It’s time for the meat of God’s Word!
  2. Journal regularly – There are times I find myself with all kinds of emotions, thoughts and feelings built up inside of me. I don’t have an outlet or choose not to call on others to talk so I store it all up and end up having an emotional breakdown. That’s not healthy. If I’m not going to seek out a listening ear, I at least need to get it out on paper.
  3. Exercise regularly – You may remember that I have a muscle disorder. Running, jumping, climbing, sitting up, etc. are all difficult. I should be exercising daily. I don’t. Now I am struggling with just walking. Something has to be done!
  4. Follow a healthier diet – Earlier this year, I was told my cholesterol was a bit high. I was told to cut out fats. I did not listen. I LIKE FATS! This has to change. I want to live to see grandkids one day. Losing some weight will alleviate some of my walking difficulties, as well.
  5. Write less; write better – The daily posts have been a lot of fun but not every post has been my best work. As I look back, I cringe at some of my entries. Keeping up the habit of writing is important to me but taking the time to write something worthwhile and finishing projects are my writing goals for this year.

Wow! I may have gone a little overboard! How am I going to follow through on all of these resolutions? The same way you are going to follow through with yours – one small step at a time. The key is to begin small. There’s no way I can stop my bad eating habits all at once. I’d die! 😉 Or at least throw in the towel after the first week. No, I have to choose one bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit, then move on to the next.

Another help in keeping resolutions is accountability. Find someone to partner with you on your weight loss journey. Find someone with whom you can study God’s Word. Find someone who will pray with you through the year. I’m lucky. I have all of you to encourage me, cheer me on and keep me moving toward my goals. And by the way, you have me, too!

Remember, resolutions are important in looking toward the future. So, be sure your goals begin with the One who already knows what the future holds in store. He has a plan for you – not just for 2018 but for your entire life. You can trust Him with your goals and expectations. But you must be willing to let go of those things that weigh you down (sometimes that means reevaluating your goals!). And you must be willing to keep going even when the world, your friends, your family, your cravings! your weaknesses! tell you that you can’t.

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I’ll keep you posted on my sticktoitiveness this year. I’m not promising anything but if I can find the will power (but mostly God power) to follow through, I know I’ll have many more SMILES to share with you in 2018. And I hope you’ll have plenty to share with me, too!

 

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 363

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Reason to SMILE #363: LOOKING BACK

It’s that time of year, again – time to look back on the year 2017, time to reflect on prominent world events and political movements, highlights of the entertainment industry, breakthroughs in technology and medicine, clothing fads and toy crazes. If you turn on the television or open your favorite news site or blog, I’m sure you’ll find all sorts of “Year in Review” shows and articles, some focusing on the good, some on the bad and some on the downright ugly. We enjoy these retrospectives. They allow us to join together in applauding achievements, celebrating victories, crying over losses and laughing at goofball mistakes.

Yes, mistakes. We can’t look back without remembering our mistakes. But it’s one thing to reflect on the mistakes of a nation, a world leader or a celebrity. It’s quite another when the spotlight of reflection lands on our own missteps and failures.

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There may be someone out there saying, “Hold up. The past is the past. I can’t change my mistakes. All I can do is move on from them. So shouldn’t we simply leave the past in the past?”

Sure. Sometimes.

But other times, we need to take a good, long look at the past (good or bad) in order to build a better future.

With that in mind, here are a few questions you may want to consider as you look back on the past twelve months:

  1. Were there any new relationships in my life this year? Did any of my existing relationships end? What was my role in the demise?
  2. Where did I excel at work this year? Where did I fall short?
  3. What decisions did I make that were beneficial to me emotionally, physically, spiritually? What led to those decisions?
  4. Which of my decisions were the most detrimental? How did my decision-making process differ in these instances from the times I made good decisions?
  5. When did I experience the most joy this year? Where was I? Who was I with?
  6. When did I experience the most sadness? Where was I? Who was I with?
  7. Did I grow in my faith this past year? Am I closer to God now than I was a year ago? Am I further away?
  8. What good habits did I establish? What bad habits?
  9. Did I reach any goals this year? Did I have any goals? Did I give up on any goals?
  10. Did I make a difference in anyone’s life for the better? Did I share my faith? How did that make me feel?

The challenge of looking back is learning from the past and then using our retrospection to create resolutions of change or of maintaining the good in the year ahead. (I’ll explore the SMILES of resolutions tomorrow.) Yes, looking back can be painful. It can remind us of our shortcomings and weaknesses. It can bring sadness and regret. But looking back can also be encouraging for it reminds us of all the SMILES that fill our lives – the friends, the family, the experiences, the memories that will strengthen us for what lies ahead in 2018.

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 362

Reason to SMILE #362: A COZY FIRE

The colder air has finally reached my neck of the woods in southwest Georgia. It’s only in the forties but I can’t seem to get warm. And wouldn’t you know it. The weatherman says we may get snow next week. Snow! Real snow (for us, anyway). Two to four inches. I know a bunch of children who are praying the weatherman’s prediction is correct because just a hint of flurries around here means no school.

Though it would make me SMILE to see snow blanketing my lawn and covering the trees, I do not want to go out in it. I will freeze before I even get to my car! And it’s extremely hard to SMILE when your face is frozen stiff.

No, I’ll be much happier if I can sit by a warm fire and enjoy the view of the snow from my window. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. Except, my view is not so white – more like gray and dreary.

fireplace

Well, at least I’m nice and cozy by the fire. 🙂

A Year of Smiles – Day 360: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #26 (Reason to SMILE #360): THE AFTERMATH

Crumpled wrapping paper,

unraveled bows,

countless opened boxes,

piles of toys, books, clothes, electronics and more,

a myriad of candy wrappers,

crumb-filled paper plates,

happy children and

pooped-out parents –

Oh, the aftermath of Christmas!

Sure, the mess creates more work for the weary but it is also evidence of a Christmas thoroughly-enjoyed.

And when you turn off the lights telling yourself the mess can wait one more day, the SMILE you find is oh, so sweet!

A Year of Smiles – Day 359: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #25 (Reason to SMILE #359): THE MIRACLES

He became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (ESV)

The miracle of God With Us began with Christ’s advent to earth as a baby but it is not constrained to one day in the past. The miracle of God With Us is experienced every day in the life of the Christian. From the moment of salvation, Christ fills us with his Spirit and continually fills us with his character, his forgiveness, his love, his grace and his mercy.

Have you experienced the miracle of Christ’s birth in your life? If not, there’s no better day than today.

Does it really matter for me that Christ was born if Christ is not born now in my life and my time?

– Author Unknown

May we always remember the miracles of Christmas – Christ’s coming to earth as a baby, to our lives as Savior and Lord and again to earth one day as our Victorious King.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Adobe Spark (69)

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 358: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #24 (Reason to SMILE #358): THE MOST PRECIOUS GIFT – JESUS

Frank strolled into our worship service one summer evening about two years ago.  He wore an old flannel shirt, cast-off work pants and a knit snow cap.  His clothes were ragged and dirty and his hair and beard were unkept.  No one could tell his age and Frank did not give an answer when asked.  He had no family to speak of nor did he have a home.  That particular night, Frank needed a place to get out of the rain for a couple of hours but he soon became a regular in our midst.

We learned a lot about Frank over the next few weeks.  Some things we learned from Frank himself; some we learned from local shelters and others we learned just from watching.  One thing we quickly learned, though, was that Frank loved music.  At the beginning of every service, Frank would sit on the front pew of the sanctuary.  He would clap and sway as the hymns and praise choruses were played.  He would sing as loud as he could and would applaud with great appreciation at the end of each song.  But as soon as the music stopped and the preacher began to speak, Frank would move to the very back pew, lay his head against the wall behind him and take a nap in the comfort of our sanctuary.  This ritual was a bit disconcerting to our pastor but harmless, nonetheless.

Our friends at the local shelters informed us that Frank was mentally challenged and as we observed Frank on his regular visits, we began to realize that Frank was more like a child than a grown man.  This explained his delight of all of the children in our congregation!  Often, Frank could be found at the children’s welcome center, passing out crayons, pencils and papers to the little ones.  Some of our parents were concerned with Frank’s involvement but all of our children loved him.  He laughed and played with the children and made each one feel welcome.  And boy, did Frank love to hear those children sing!

Before we knew it, Christmas had arrived.  The children’s choir had been practicing very hard for the Christmas pageant that year because each choir member knew that Frank would be in the congregation.  The special evening came and Frank sat in the front pew, as always.  He was fascinated with the manger scene on the stage and could barely sit still as he waited for the service to begin.  Finally, the children, dressed as sheep, cows, pigs, shepherds and angels, entered the sanctuary.  Frank stood and cheered and all the children giggled with excitement.  After Frank settled down, the music began and Frank watched as the children of our church told the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.  No one had ever seen Frank so attentive and when the choir sang its final song, Frank stood and cheered once again.

After their performance, the children made their way from the stage to their parents in the congregation and the pastor made his way to the pulpit to preach.  Once in the pulpit, the pastor was surprised to see Frank still seated in the front pew and not settled in the back pew for his evening nap.  Though quite curious, the preacher began his Christmas sermon, looking down occasionally to see if Frank was awake.  Frank was awake, indeed, but he was not listening to the preacher.  You see, before little Mary left the stable stall that evening to sit with her parents, she placed the baby doll used in the pageant to portray baby Jesus back into the manger.  Frank’s attention was fixed on the little baby.  Then halfway through the sermon, Frank suddenly stood up.  We all thought that Frank was headed to his usual back pew but Frank was headed in the opposite direction.  Before anyone could react, Frank had made his way to the nativity scene on stage.  The pastor, still trying to keep his wits about him, nodded to a deacon to go after Frank but neither the deacon nor anyone else in the congregation was looking at the pastor.  All eyes were on Frank.

No one knew what to do.  Our first impulse was to grab Frank and pull him back to his seat but our curiosity kept us frozen in our pews.  We watched as Frank stood near the manger where the little baby lay.  Scratching his head and then wringing his hands, he inched closer and closer to the baby.  He reached down toward the baby but quickly pulled back his arms.  He looked out at all of us then back to the baby.  At this point, the pastor realized that God had a different plan for the evening, and he gave up all attempts at finishing his sermon.  The sanctuary, filled with hundreds of men, women, boys and girls, was still and quiet as God’s message of love and grace began to unfold in front of our eyes.

Frank’s obvious confusion ultimately pulled him to his knees beside the manger.  He reached over to pick up the baby Jesus, and the sounds of tiny sniffles throughout the room grew into uncontrolled sobs as one heart after another began to break.  Quietly, a little angel slipped from her seat and made her way down the aisle of the sanctuary and to the side of Frank.  A sweet little voice said, “It’s ok, Frank,” as she gave her friend a big hug.  Frank knew this little angel – she shared her cookies with him every Sunday – so Frank asked his friend, “Do you know whose baby this is?”  “That’s baby Jesus,” she said emphatically.  “He’s God’s Son.”  Frank replied, “He’s all alone….just like me.”  The little angel giggled as she said, “Silly, Frank, that’s just a baby doll.  The real Jesus is in our hearts and that means we’re never alone.”

Tears began to roll down the face of our friend Frank as little angels, sheep, cows, shepherds and all the other children gathered around the baby Jesus, and our silence was broken.  Sweet melodies of Christmas rang out from the sanctuary piano and our hearts overflowed.  It took some time but the pastor finally convinced Frank that the baby in the manger scene was simply a doll but most importantly, the pastor was able to tell Frank about God’s love and the gift of His Son, Jesus.  That night, Frank left our Christmas service a changed man.  In fact, no one in that sanctuary was ever the same again.


Jesus, sent from heaven for you and for me, was a gift so precious that even a host of angels could not contain their great joy in telling the Good News of His birth nor could the shepherds, after seeing the baby, keep from sharing with all who would listen that the Savior had been born.  Yet, we often keep this gift to ourselves, storing it away for safekeeping and sharing it only on special occasions.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth and retell His story year after year then we walk away, leaving God’s Love lying in the manger.  May we be more like Frank this Christmas season and all the year through; may we embrace God’s most precious gift in spite of all that is happening around us and may we share His gift with the world.