I am always fascinated by people. I am intrigued by what we like, how we make a living and our attitudes. Recently, I watched a TV show about a woman who likes to eat cat hair. I told you, people are really interesting! As different as we all are, I have found one thing to be true for nearly all people: we want to be happy. Well, except for a few grumpy people I have met, I think that we truly want to be happy people.
Sadly, that does not seem to be the case. I read the results of several surveys that measured happiness in our country. They all point to a similar trend. For example, in 2017, the Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness found that only 33% of Americans feel that they are happy. Again and again, the results indicate that the majority of Americans are not happy folks.
Most of these polls did not study why people are unhappy. However, I have my theories. I would think that many people are unhappy because they are lonely. I am sure that many people are miserable because they feel trapped in low-paying jobs with cranky bosses. I have seen many people who are unhappy because of health problems. Other people are miserable because they are struggling financially. There are tons of reasons that I have seen people be unhappy.
As a pastor, I have always hoped that I could bring some joy into that misery. My old Hebrew professor from seminary would always say, “You were created for joy!” I think he was correct. I have a gut feeling that God wants us to be as joyful as we can be, just as you would wish for your own children. So, I hope that I can bring a little bit of joy to you here and now.
Let me tell you where you will not find lasting happiness. I do not believe you will find long-term happiness from addictions, accomplishments or material and monetary gains. These things will be short-term bursts of happiness. The shine on that new car or promotion will wear off. Then you will be back at square one.
I have learned that there are a lot of things that we can do to contribute to our overall levels of happiness. One thing we can do is keep up good, healthy social connections. Stay in touch with friends and family who bring joy into your life. Second, help other people, even if it is in a small way. I have read many studies that suggest helping others will help you to feel better. Third, take good care of the body God gave you. Exercise, eat well and manage your stress levels. The better you take care of this machine, the better off you will be.
I believe the greatest boost to our levels of happiness will come from our faith in God. In Philippians 4:12-13 Paul says, “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.” Paul found his secret to a happiness that stuck with him through all circumstances: God. A loving, obedient relationship with God will give us indescribable, unending joy no matter what happens in our lives.
Psalm 144:15 says, “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!” That is us! When we let God be in charge of our lives, we experience an influx of happiness and joy that will last all our lives. We will still experience hardships in our lives, but we will have a deep joy that nothing and no one can take from us.
As I looked back over my life, I tried to remember the times when I was the happiest. I thought about graduations, family get-togethers, marriage, the birth of my daughters and so on. Oddly, I remembered skinny-dipping with my older brother in the creek when we were kids. It wasn’t anything fancy, but I remember being full of joy that day with my brother. I noticed a trend as I played this reel of memories in my mind. The happiest moments of my life have all been moments that could not be purchased. They were moments that were filled with people. That might be where our happiest days will come from in the future.
I hope you will find as much happiness as possible in this life. However, I believe our greatest hope for joy will come the moment we place our lives in God’s loving hands.