A PROMINENT MEDICAL professor claims that the reason why there is so much unhappiness in the modern world is that we have confused happiness with pleasure.* We have persuaded ourselves that when we buy products and experiences that give us pleasure, they will make us happy. And so most of the world’s economies are based on the promotion of pleasure, from tobacco to fast food to mobile phones and countless other commodities which promise to make us happy. But they do not deliver—it’s a scientifically proven fact.
The professor suggests four basic ingredients as a recipe for happiness:
Connect—foster real life interpersonal relationships
Contribute—give rather than take
Cope—adopt a sustainable lifestyle, with adequate sleep and exercise and reduce stress to a manageable level
Cook—prepare proper unprocessed food with natural ingredients.
Few would argue with this recipe. But here’s another ingredient which the professor overlooked—Faith.
Faith is a way of life. The Apostle Paul describes it like this: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). This is a profound statement. The Christian life is one of devotion to Jesus Christ who is your master (Luke 9:23). Not everyone would see a life of service as a route to happiness, but the key is to recognise who Jesus is: your Saviour, who loves you and gave his life for your salvation.
The life of faith is a developing relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ, a life of personal transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18), with its goal eternal life in God’s Kingdom (Luke 12:32). That is a recipe for a special kind of happiness.
As you’d expect, the Bible has a lot to say about happiness. In an English translation you’re more likely to find the word ‘blessed’ than ‘happy’, but they essentially mean the same thing. Here are a few examples from the Bible’s songbook, the Psalms:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:1–3).
Blessedness is the result of consciously pursuing a God- centred life.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1–2). Blessedness is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that everything you’ve done wrong has been forgiven.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! (Psalm 65:4). Blessedness comes from belonging to God, and being a member of His household.
And here are some examples from the teaching of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:3–11 he gives a set of eight pronouncements which each begin ‘Blessed are…’ They are sometimes called the ‘Beatitudes’. This is simply Latin for ‘blessedness’, but someone has observed that it’s a good name for them because they describe attitudes that shape how we should be—‘be attitudes’. Here are the first three:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 3). To be ‘poor in spirit’ is the opposite of being proud of yourself—it’s to be aware of your need for the grace of God.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (v. 4). To ‘mourn’ is to be saddened by the ungodliness we see in the world, and in ourselves.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (v. 5). To be ‘meek’ is to be teachable, ready to learn and follow rather than go our own way.
You may like to carry on and read the rest of the Beatitudes, but these three give a flavour. If you were asked to write a list of attitudes that make for happiness, would it look like this? But do you see what Jesus is doing: he is making us look beyond ourselves. And he is making it clear that true happiness is rooted in looking beyond this life to the future. If our focus is on God, His grace, and eternal life which He promises in His coming Kingdom—if we are living in faith— happiness will be a by-product.
How To Be Happy
Buying stuff that gives temporary pleasure will not make you happy. Getting in control of your life—connecting, contributing, coping and cooking—that sounds like a good start. But true happiness is found in the life of faith—‘O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!’ (Psalm 84:12).
* Dr Robert Lustig in The Hacking of the American Mind