Discover Lasting Happiness

Date: February 22, 2024

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:11-12


The Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz tells the story of a down-trodden, poverty stricken man by the name of Bontsche who dies and goes to heaven.  As a reward for his years of suffering an angel asks him what is his most fervent wish.  The man replies, “I should like to have every morning, a hot roll with fresh butter.”  That was it, a warm piece of bread with butter.  Forget the expensive car, the palatial mansion, sitting in the front row of the choir.  He was satisfied with what he wished for on earth but had often been denied.

What would it take for you to be really satisfied?  “If I only had” [we often say, usually filling in the blanks with material items], “then I would be happy.”

No one in his right mind would deny that having three square meals a day, adequate housing, clothing, friends and family are important, but have we placed too much value on the trappings of affluence as a prerequisite to being happy?  Frankly, the more electronic gadgets and sophisticated toys we have, it seems to me, the greater our frustration in keeping them all working.

There is one thing for sure: The decade to come is going to bring more and more books and articles on how to be happy, how to find fulfillment, and how to reach your dream. “Within the field of psychology,” writes Suzy Parker, “there’s a groundswell of support for a new sub-specialty known as ‘positive psychology.’ Researchers say they want to study good feelings rather than bad, to put the emphasis on mental health rather than mental illness.  It seems even the experts are become sick of sickness.”  (“Basic needs met?   Next comes happiness,” USA Today, January 2, 2001, 11A).

The focus is on “the luxury of feeling good” as opposed to addressing what’s wrong with you that makes you feel bad.  Forget the fix; focus on the good feelings.  But the real question is this: “Is it OK to feel good when your feelings are a short-lived euphoria—much like the high a couple of Ibuprofen give you when you have a headache—when there is something fundamentally wrong with you that needs to be fixed?

No, I don’t drink vinegar and tell myself to forget about feeling good because eventually I’ll feel bad again, but an unrealistic stress on “feeling good” at the cost of reality and truth doesn’t square with what an age-old textbook on life says.  The Bible is strangely silent on steps to feeling good about yourself after your husband leaves you, after your financial failure, or after you are evicted from your rental house.

It says the antidote to human failure which the Bible calls sin is God’s forgiveness, and in a thousand ways it speaks of the peace that comes knowing you are right with God which, in turn, brings a sense of well-being.  But this is much different from the emphasis on happiness which is often akin to blowing warm air on the cold thermostat and convincing yourself that you are warm and pleasant.

“Being right,” stresses God’s Word, “is more important than feeling right.”  God’s textbook, which I hesitate to even call God’s psychology, suggests that what we think of as happiness is a by-product of being right with God, with our husbands and wives, with our neighbors, and our world.

You can be certain there’s going to be a big market for the “happiness” books which an affluent generation will snap up.  But as Britney Spears, who has had fame and popularity, asks, “If there’s nothing missing in my life, why do these tears come at night?” (Christianity Today, July 10, 2000, p. 32).  Being right helps you do the right thing, and when you do that, you’ll stumble across happiness as a by-product.  It’s the kind that really, really lasts.

Resource reading: Matthew 6:25-34.