I firmly believe God wants you and me to be happy.
I cringe a little as I write that. It sounds so prosperity gospel, name it and claim it, God wants you to drive a Caddy and heat your house with hundred dollar bills. I don’t mean it that way.
But I do believe God wants us to live happy, joyful lives. He doesn’t want somber, joyless saints who always act like their dog “Yeller” died (why would you put that in a kids movie?).
Even though God allows me to struggle with depression and anxiety, I do believe that God wants me to have happiness in my life (which can be hard).
And I think we tend to overcomplicate and over-spiritualize this whole happiness business. It’s relatively straightforward.
If you want to be happy, here’s what you need to do.
If Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Fountain of Living Water, then he’s the ultimate and primary source of happiness. I don’t mean he’s a means to our happiness. That would be making happiness more important than Jesus himself.
But if we want to be happy, the first step is simply spending time with Jesus.
Psalm 43:3-4 puts it this way:
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.
If you want to be happy, you spend time with the person who gives “exceeding joy”: Jesus. You read your Bible, pray, hear the preached word, worship through singing, etc. Nothing new or innovative here. No groundbreaking formulas based on years of research.
The more you know Jesus, the happier you’ll be, the more hope you’ll have, and the more satisfying your life will be. You’ll still have struggles, trials, and burdens, but to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, when Christ asks us to carry our cross, he always takes the heavier end.
More Jesus equals more happiness.
More Good Friends
Few things are more precious than good friends. I’m not talking the people you know on Facebook or that person you make small talk with during the turn and greet at church (a.k.a “The Introverts Nightmare”).
I mean the man or woman who knows you, cares about you, and is actually fun to be around. I think that last part is important. Someone who is only an accountability partner is not fun to be around. It feels more like an interrogation than a friendship.
A good, godly friend is someone who cares about you and brings you happiness. I know, crazy right?
Proverbs 18:24 says:
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Do you want to be happy this year? Spend time with your good friends. Laugh with them, bear their burdens, pray for them, and poke fun at them. Yes, also spend time with those not like you, but don’t take a martyr’s approach to friendship.
More good friends equals happiness.
Brace yourselves because I’m going to say something crazy here: God wants you to have fun.
If God didn’t want us to have fun, he could have easily made the world boring and bland, like some sort of Communist dystopia. But he didn’t. The world is a boardwalk carnival of tastes and smells and feelings and food and skydiving and basketball and knitting and books and hiking and Netflix and a million other things.
God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree in the garden except one. He wanted them to taste them all! To enjoy the divine buffet he gave them. To romp through the forest and feel the wet ground under their feet and make joyful love and eat food that took their breath away.
Yes, we can sin and turn good things into idols, but if we’re always paranoid about idolatry then we’ll miss out on all the delights God has prepared for us.
Do you like mystery novels? Read some! Do you love to bake? Whip up a masterpiece! Are you an avid hiker? Hit the mountain trails!
Fun plus gratefulness is deeply honoring to God.
More fun equals more happiness.
Less Social Media
I am increasingly convinced that social media is toxic. Yes, it can be a wonderful tool for good, but there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time we spend on social media and our overall levels of happiness.
We would never willfully spend time in a room where everyone was shouting their opinions at us, and yet that’s what we do every time we log onto Facebook. We willingly let people dump their outrage, complaints, brags, and burdens onto us.
These aren’t ours to carry. We’re called to bear the burdens of those around us, not the burdens of the world at large.
I like social media and spend a fair amount of time on it. But more and more, I’m focusing on a few platforms that actually make me happy and eliminating the ones that are a cesspool of misery.
If you want to be happy this year, spend less time in the fake world and more time in the real world. Laugh with your kids, read a book, watch a basketball game, drink an espresso, tell jokes, or go for a run.
Less social media equals more happiness.
I’ve seen bumper stickers that say things like, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of terrible things happening in the world. Racism, sex trafficking, dictators, and natural disasters are happening everywhere.
But God never intended us to live in a state of perpetual outrage and offense. It’s miserable. And frankly, nobody likes being around a constantly outraged person. Constant outrage is exhausting and a surefire way to burnout.
It’s appropriate to be grieved by the sin in the world and to work for justice, mercy, and the spread of the gospel. But outrage doesn’t produce true change. In fact, outrage is one of the quickest ways to drive a person away. You may be able to change a situation through outrage, but it will be at the expense of the people involved.
As Ray Ortlund Jr. puts it, it’s much better to be a “quiet fanatic”. To quietly, yet passionately work hard to see the kingdom of God come in our towns and cities.
If you want to be happy this year, spend less time being outraged and more time praying and acting.
Less outrage equals more happiness.
These days, the news is the worst. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, there’s something to be ticked off about. Taking in a constant stream of news is like bathing in sewage. It’s going to make you unhappy.
Are there things worth knowing? Sure. I’m not saying you should become a hermit.
But like social media, most burdens aren’t ours to bear. We’re limited people with limited abilities. Some of us are in unique positions to make a real difference, but most of us are called to act locally. 90% of news simply doesn’t apply to us. It just ticks us off.
If you want to be happy this year, spend less time immersed in the news and more time immersed in what’s happening in your immediate vicinity. Be present for the people God has connected you to. Care for the poor, bless those in your church, and bring others joy.
Less news equals more happiness.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
Obviously, not all these things are quite as simple as I make them sound. We live in a sinful world and will always experience trials and tribulations. It’s hard to make good friends. Some news really does matter. Some of us make our living via the internet. We can’t totally isolate ourselves.
But more and more, I’m convinced that God has given us 10,000 things to make us happy. I want to spend my time doing those things.