I’m not pursuing happiness. Not directly, that is. Happiness by itself is not an end-goal, it cannot be an end-goal.
Pursuit of happiness, regardless of what else is going on in our lives, leads us to seek our own ease, our own comfort, to prioritize ourselves over everyone else, to prioritize our feelings over what is good and right.
Discrimination pissing you off? It doesn’t make you happy. If you wanted happy you would just avoid hearing about it, bury your head in the sand. But your anger and frustration? They lead you to act to change things, to make things better, to make yourself better, to do what is good and right.
I think I’ve mentioned before that God doesn’t call us into a comfortable life, God doesn’t even call us into happiness. Joy? Yes. But that is a deeper level of satisfaction with life than happiness. Where happiness is light and bubbly (and fleeting), joy is deep-seated in our bones. Joy comes out of and to the dirt of our being, the depths of our souls. It can persist through anger and pain. It can be present with happiness and without.
Joy is a consequence of living well, living with purpose and meaning.
But it is those deeper things of life which God calls us to shape our lives around: the deep joining of our being to God’s, the knowledge of Love bone-deep. And from there we can live and move, when our roots are grounded in the Divine Source.
We can start by asking God what part of the Divine we can reflect through our lives. That might be a way of being, a skill, a message; explicit or undergirding our actions. We are each unique. Trying to copy the way someone else reflects God might give partial light, but you living in your own fullness, by the Spirit, will give it clearer and stronger. There is a part of God which only you can bring.
You don’t have to change the world, but you will find joy in making it a little bit better, in bringing a bit more of God’s kingdom to life.
It’s not that God doesn’t care about our happiness, but rather God knows where sustainable joy comes from. It’s deeper than just waking up on the right side of the bed, or getting good vibes from walking in the sunshine; deep joy comes from moving in our true being, centred in God. It comes from living a purposeful live, a useful one, where your actions having meaning beyond “because it feels good” and the satisfaction of a temporary itch.
The seeking of comfort or happiness has us taking what feels good in the moment, regardless of how it makes us feel later. Often the things which are good for us we don’t want to do, but they feel good later to have done them.
The lasting happiness of joy cannot be found in an impulse reaction, it is built up with sustained practice, dedicated action in the same direction. It needs to be a way of life, not a 5-minute fix. It comes from chosen mindsets of seeking the good and beautiful and lovely (Philippians 4:8), deliberately focusing on those things, the life-giving, not the life-draining. It is to shape our whole lives around the ways of God.
God wants us to chase after Him with all of our being, all of our strength, just as He pursues us.
We are not to seek joy for its own sake. Our focus, the target of our pursuit must be God. The Bible doesn’t just tell us to turn to God when we are in need because God can provide, it tells us this to have us turning again and again back to God Herself. God must be our focus, not our lack. It is in Christ when can do all things, not by the aid of Christ. In and through.
If we try to cling to our life, shoring it up with ease and fleeting pleasures (or even just seeking less pain), it fritters away, day by day, until we look back and ask where has the year gone, and what do we have to show for the time we have spent alive?
But if we spend our lives, paying out day by day on meaningful work, on living true to our core being, honouring our values and heart’s cry, when we feel free to give our lives in this work, knowing that this purpose is worth the cost of days, months, sleepless nights, then we can reach a point where we look back and say it was spent well, the cost of our lives has bought goodness to this world, enfleshing God’s kingdom in the here and now.
Is that not true living? Does that not quicken our spirits into joy far more than any Facebook notification, chocolate bar, or hour on the couch watching the latest tv series ever could?
So, what are you willing to spend your life on, when there is no guarantee that it will pay your bills or give you personal success? What matters more than personal comforts and a full wallet? Yes, the dream is that you can have both, that living your passion and deepest dream for this world will also sustain you with on-going income or a bank account so large you don’t need it, but what would you do anyway?
What would you do even if it never promised happiness? When you are soaking wet in Living Water, what does your heart compel you to do? What will feed you with deep joy and satisfaction even if it can never make you happy?
Emotions are easily swayed, shifted by simple things like our posture, our place, the person who passed us in the street. Seriously. Try sitting slumped for 5 minutes and then standing up and holding a strongman pose for 5 minutes and see how you felt in each. Try sitting or walking in the sun for 5 minutes and see if your mood changes. Did the last person you saw smile at you or tear you down?
So why do we trust these fickle feelings to guide us into a good life? Couldn’t they just as easily lead us into sitting on the couch all day watching tv? Why would we think to trust them over God?
I’m not saying that emotions don’t tell us important information, but they can be shifted by our own actions. This is about loving ourselves more than giving us what we think we want, giving sacrificially to ourselves by doing the right thing which will bring deep satisfaction and joy, not just the temporary fix.
Our society disdains those out doing anything to get their next fix of drugs, or the bum picking up cigarette butts because he’s so desperate for a smoke. We ask, “Why don’t they just stop? Why can’t they see the bigger picture of what this craving is doing to their lives? Why can’t they just deny themselves in the short-term so they can get to a better place in the long-term?”
And yet we do it to ourselves: when we vege out on the couch instead of doing the dishes, when we muck around on social media sites instead of doing the work due tomorrow, when we choose to eat a big bowl of chocolate ice cream because it’ll make us feel better, safer, comfortable now, never mind the tummy cramps that’ll happen at 3 in the morning because of it, or the promotion we don’t get, or the stress we will feel when we get up in the morning to a bench covered in dirty dishes again.
And I’m writing this even more to myself than to anyone else.
Yet living a life with God, one of meaning and purpose, is living with the large picture in mind, is living in full integrity with our values, with the words which come out of our mouths. That’s one of the reasons I started writing daily affirmations: because if you tell yourself you are a certain way, sooner or later you either need to change what you’re doing or what you’re writing so they match. Every morning I write my affirmations, I remind myself again that this is the life I have chosen to live, this is the direction I want to be going, this is the me I want to be.
And it’s always better than I am, more than I do, but it urges me on (see Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 9:24). I tell myself every morning to keep going in this direction, this is the way I have questioned and challenged and sought after, and it still rings true and right and honest to who I am and who my God asks me to be.
So, who will you be today? And will you be spending your time chasing happiness (and comfort) or the deep-abiding joy of living in tune with God and yourself?