Pssst…Do You Know the Secret to Happiness?
The answer is to not pursue it at all
Happiness: we all seem in a headlong pursuit to find it, hold on to it and control it. I wonder, however, why we pursue happiness like it was the water our life depended upon, but treat contentment like a rich dessert, something we may enjoy from time to time but really can’t afford to have too often? Shouldn’t the opposite be true? As followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we value contentment like the air we breathe, absolutely necessary for our daily sustenance and provision? And shouldn’t we view happiness as an occasional fleeting emotion we can enjoy but not depend upon for our daily peace?
How about you? Do you value contentment more than happiness or is the pursuit of happiness a big part of your life?
The opposite of happiness is not sadness. Actually happiness and sadness exist in the same sphere. Think of twin brothers riding a roller coaster together. One loves going up but hates going down, the other is just the opposite. For half the ride one is terrorized and the other joyful. It all depends on whether you’re going up or down. That’s how happiness and sadness work in our life. As we roll through the ups and downs of life, we will alternatively be happy or sad as a result.
I suggest that Scripture teaches that the opposite of happiness is discontentment. It is a deep-seated dis-ease that never leaves us, even in our most dogged pursuit of happiness. Going back to our analogy, it’s like riding that roller coaster with chronic back pain. No matter how much going up brings you happiness, there is an ache that steals your joy. And going down is not only terrifying, it multiplies this deep-seated sense of disjointedness in life.
When Jesus claimed that he came to give us life in all its fullness, I believe he was talking about the contented life, not the momentary spurts of happiness we desperately cling to, only to have them filter through our fingers like sand. Godly, Christ-centered contentment is much different. It’s the consistent sense that it is ‘well with your soul’. It is what Paul called the “peace that passes all understanding.” (Phil 4) It makes no sense to the world riding roller coasters and grasping for an ever-fleeting sense of happiness. Yet it is the secret to escaping the roller coaster life that fluctuates with the good news, bad news, fears and hopes that pulsate through our daily existence. It is somehow above and immune from the chaos and uncertainties in our world.
I don’t believe you measure this godly contentment by the metrics of pleasure, purpose and pride. In fact, there is an odd but important paradox we must embrace. We can be deeply content and emotionally unhappy at the same time. Contentment does not require emotional happiness, but true happiness is only found when it emerges from this deep-seated contentment. Therefore, if we have contentment in Christ, our happiness will be all the more satisfying. Without that contentment, we are left to the vagaries of life. We are back on that roller coaster alternating between times of happiness and sadness depending on the affairs of the day. That’s not the life God created us to live.
That is what I believe Paul meant when he shared with us this powerful ‘secret’.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 (italics mine)
There it is. The secret to happiness in life is found when we stop pursuing happiness at all. Instead, we seek the contentment only found through the all sufficiency of Christ.
Contentment in Christ is the fruit of the life of a fully surrendered steward.
So what would it take for you to set aside a quest for daily happiness and seek instead the deep contentment that God has for us as a child of His?
We must be clear about one final thing, contentment does not mean inaction, social disengagement or nominalism. Contentment does not pull us out of our work, it is the fuel upon which our work can be completed with a heart that remains fixed on the source of our power and supply. Contentment does not set us back in an easy chair, but brings us to our feet in the joyful investment of all we have in the work God called us to do. Contentment does not mean we settle for less, it is the power by which we reach the highest levels of achievement and do so with absolute excellence. It is contentment, not happiness, that motivates us to be fully the people God created us to be.
So let me ask again, what would it take for you to pursue this deep-seated contentment in your life as a follower of Jesus today? Can you say with Paul that you have learned the secret of contentment? If not, make this your daily pursuit in your growing faith in Christ.