I found this card on my daughter’s desk:
I asked her where she got it, and she said she wrote it. I read it again. She is almost ten years old. “Really? You made this up?”
“Yep. I typed it on my typewriter.”
Recently on the Today show, I saw a segment about the pursuit of happiness. Experts weighed in and “ordinary” people were asked to participate in an experiment. For three days they were told to live as if their time was short – as if those were their last three days on this earth. One woman went crab hunting, something she had never done before. Another woman went boating – an activity she enjoyed but had little time for. And one of the men traveled to visit his extended family. All of them reported feeling somewhat happier after their three-day mini-vacations, and the conclusion was that if we want to attain happiness, we should look closely at our short term choices and make time for things we enjoy, for adventure, and for quality time with those we love.
That’s it? That’s the secret? I get the part about choosing to use our time well and making sure we do things that fill our buckets and bring us enjoyment, but surely this is only one aspect of living well and being happy. While the idea of living each day as if it’s our last sounds really inspiring, most of us can’t do that because it’s just not practical. Because “ordinary” people have to do things like go to work, go to school, get our teeth cleaned and run errands. We have commitments, chores, activities and demands that we must attend to. And I don’t think that true happiness is found by escaping our everyday lives. I think it’s available and attainable in the mundane, ordinary, less-than-perfect places.
I think it’s found by loving God and loving others.
We all want to be happy. And we want the people we love to be happy. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard parents say of their children, “We just want them to be happy. That’s the most important thing.”
The theology of our culture is that happiness comes by doing what makes us feel good–at least in the moment. We are told to look inside ourselves, be true to ourselves, and to pursue the things that make us feel happy: pleasure, possessions, positions, and personal gain. But all that acquiring and achieving can leave us feeling unsatisfied. The happiness is often short-lived.
Jesus taught a different, counter-cultural approach to happiness. In Matthew 5 (Living Bible), here’s what he told his disciples and the crowd that had gathered to listen to him teach:
“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them,
“for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. 4 Those who mourn are fortunate,
for they shall be comforted. 5 The meek and lowly are fortunate,
for the whole wide world belongs to them.
6 “Happy are those who long to be just and good,
for they shall be completely satisfied.7 Happy are the kind and merciful,
for they shall be shown mercy. 8 Happy are those whose hearts are pure,
for they shall see God. 9 Happy are those who strive for peace—they shall be called
the sons of God. 10 Happy are those who are persecuted because they are good,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 “When you are reviled and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers—wonderful! 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad!
For a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven.
And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted too.
13 “You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable.
If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world?
And you yourselves will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
14 You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see.
15-16 Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see,
so that they will praise your heavenly Father.
The happiness Jesus is talking about is not self-seeking. It is not dependent on circumstances. It stays with us even in hardship, in grief and loss, in persecution and poverty. It is rooted in love and goodness, and Jesus said it is like seasoning in a tasteless world, and a light in the darkness. It’s not a fake, “put-on-your-happy-face” kind of sentiment. Sometimes it’s joy and peace shining through tears and sadness, confident hope and trust in God’s love and goodness even in the midst of life’s darkest trials.
I was with my mom during the last few days of her life. She knew they were her last. Yet she wasn’t thinking about herself and everything she wanted to have before she died. She was seeking to glorify God and give Him honor. She didn't want to leave us, but she had a deep, abiding peace and trust in God's will. She showed kindness to everyone who entered her hospital room. She spoke blessings over everyone she talked to. She brought peace and reconciliation in our family. She poured love out on all of us, and she was absolutely radiant. And dare I even say it? I believe she was happy. Deeply, authentically happy. Just a few hours before she died she said, “What a beautiful day the Lord has made.”
Only God could make that day beautiful. And only a truly happy soul could have eyes to see it.
I think my daughter is on the right track. Maybe she needed to remind herself that true happiness is found by following God, loving others, doing what is right, and being the person God created her to be. Maybe we all need to be reminded from time to time.