In a comment here, David asked:
“i’ve spent some time thinking about the topic of happiness.. how happy should we be as Christians?”
I’ve been mulling that over. I was hoping somebody else would come in and offer up some thoughts. Because I think this is far from a complete answer. But for whatever they are worth, here goes.
There is a brand of happiness which is shallow but pervasive. It’s the sort-of happiness that we don’t have to work at. It’s the result of outward experiences going our way, of getting what we want. I would feel happy if I won a million dollars (or a thousand, or a hundred, or heck, even ten)
I think Christians have done a lot of damage by acting like God wants them to experience this form of happiness. They have acted like they feel this form of happiness. They have sought after it to the point of making it an idol.
I think that this easy brand of happiness can be a crutch to our spiritual development. Scripture seems clear that sometimes God will challenge us with circumstances that are unfair and not happiness-producing. Our faith is in the idea that Jesus was undeservedly crucified. I don’t know of a more thorough argument against the claim that God wants our outside circumstances to be easy.
There is, however, this whole other thing. It’s like intense satisfaction pepper extensively with joy. It’s this feeling of worship-surrender. It comes from recognizing that there are more important things than creating more comfortable life circumstances for me.
I wonder if the guy who wrote “Blessed Be” was thinking about this difference. In the chorus, it seems like he’s saying “I’ll praise when you have the shallow kind of happiness” and “I’ll praise you when I have that deeper kind of happiness.” Maybe I’m reading into it a bit… Does anybody have the lyrics to that song? I can’t remember them word-for-word.
So maybe I’ve got five bucks. I’m headed to get an iced coffee. On the way, I see something God calls me to use that money on.
If I get the iced coffee I’ll experience the first kind of happiness. If I spend it on what God wants me to spend it on I’ll experience that second kind of happiness. It’s funny how addictive the first brand of happiness is. And yet the second is so much more fuffilling. Almost every time I engage in it (which isn’t nearly often enough) I think “Wow, I should do this more often.” And yet without fail, I go back to my buy-the-iced-coffee-for-myself ways.
(A great read which touches on this subject: The Geography of Bliss. It’s a secular book that started with a list of the most happy and least happy places in the world. The author travels to these in a quest to get at what makes the people happy. Along the way he shares some pretty interesting research about the nature of happiness itself. Some of the conclusions that jump out at me that he shared:
People who report going to church also report being happier.
People who give away a gift report being happier than keeping a gift to themselves.
We appear hard-wired to give in a more primitive portion of our brain than anybody would have expected.
This distinction between the two different forms of happiness is a product of my own brain. Therefore none of the above mentioned research discriminates between them.)