The One Question I Never Ask Myself (Because It Never Ends Well)

Not long ago when shopping in a local grocery store for some reason I had the thought that no one in there looked happy.

Maybe because they were concentrating on trying to find everything on their lists. I don’t know. But no one was smiling. It was probably ridiculous for me to have that thought and I was probably not smiling either. But for some reason it just struck me that no one in there looked happy.

Then I looked to my right and saw a whole aisle devoted to pets – both sides of the aisle – food, treats, and every kind of squeeky toy and accessory Sparky or Jake could possibly want. And I thought, “I am living in a nation that is so rich it has whole aisles devoted to PETS! We should all be walking through this store with huge smiles on our faces.”

I put a huge smile on my face. Until I got to the olive section and had to deal with just too many choices…

A few years ago I watched a television special about man who traveled around United States and other nations and asked people if they were happy.

From what I remember the other nations were predominantly poor nations. And what stood out to me from the program was that it seems the United States is the only nation where people ask themselves if they are happy. When the interviewer asked people in poorer nations if they were happy usually got the answer, “I don’t even think about that question.”

You would think it would be just the opposite. You would think that people in United States, one of the wealthiest nations on earth would of course be happy. And you would think that poor people would be unhappy and discontented. Yet in the land where one of our inalienable rights is the pursuit of happiness, many people don’t know if they are happy or not and are continually asking themselves if they are and relentlessly pursuing the elusive bluebird of happiness.

I don’t ask myself if I’m happy. I don’t believe the Bible encourages us to ask ourselves if we are happy.

Rather we should ask ourselves questions like, “Am I rejoicing? Am I content in Christ? Am I trusting Jesus? Do I have hope in Jesus? Am I giving thanks in every circumstance?” These would be the questions I would ask myself rather than “Am I happy.”

I do believe that Christians should be joyful and I regularly ask Jesus to fill me with his joy. And he does. But at the same time Paul also said that he was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Am I happy? Yes but it depends on what you mean by “happy”.

I don’t necessarily have happy feelings all the time. But I am happy (or glad) and grateful that Jesus saved me and loves me. I’m happy that he will never forsake me and that someday I will see his face.

Sometimes people translate the word “Blessed” as” Happy.” To me they are two different things. To be blessed is to be favored by God. To be the object of his grace. But to be blessed does not necessarily mean I will feel happy. In the beatitudes, Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those reviled and persecuted for Christ’s sake. None of these things make you feel particularly happy.

Should we pursue happiness? If you mean we should pursue Jesus Christ who will satisfy our deepest desires, then yes. If we pursue happiness apart from Jesus, then we will certainly come up empty-handed. If we seek Jesus and his will we will be fulfilled even if we are not technically “happy.”

One of my favorite songs is the hilarious “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh. It’s brilliant in my opinion. As he describes the life of a rock star he captures the essence of the empty pursuit of happiness in this world. Some of the lyrics are:

I have a mansion but forget the price
Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice
I live in hotels, tear out the walls
I have accountants, pay for it all…

My Maseratti does one-eighty-five
I lost my license, now I don’t drive
I have a limo, ride in the back
I lock the doors in case I’m attacked…

I’m making records, my fans they can’t wait
They write me letters, tell me I’m great
So I got me an office, gold records on the wall
Just leave a message, maybe I’ll call

Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through
(Everybody say I’m cool, he’s cool)
I can’t complain but sometimes I still do
Life’s been good to me so far

I go to parties sometimes until four
It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door
It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame
Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed

Joe Walsh does a pretty good job of describing our American “pursuit of happiness.” Nothing in this life really fulfills us.

Sometimes people think if they can just find their “soul mate,” that person will make them happy.

But no human being can fulfill another human being. No human being can make you happy. No possessions, no job, no amount of success can make us happy. Only Jesus can satisfy and fulfill us. Jesus gives us his joy in this life, but the ultimate joy will be when we see him face to face.

I often think about Christians who are suffering for their faith in North Korean prison camps. If we were to ask them if they are happy I would imagine they would say they don’t ask themselves that question. Do they always feel joy? I can’t imagine they do. But I’m sure they must look forward to the unimaginable joy they will have at the marriage supper of the lamb.

I never ask myself if I am happy. I don’t think about it. But I want to be joyful. I want to be thankful. I want to be as joyful and thankful as I can be for the glory of Jesus. By his grace I want to be joyful and thankful even in hard times. I hope unbelievers will see my joy in Jesus.

So next time you’re in the grocery store and walk past the pet aisle, praise God for his generosity to you and thank him for the joy he gives you in Jesus.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.

6 comments

  • The message is good. Why worry so much about “being happy.” But I wonder about the ad for the Book of Mormon. What is that about?

  • Great article.

    Instead of constantly taking time to ask if I’m a happy person, I’m trying to take time and reflect, “am I finding my joy in Christ, or simply in the good gifts He gives?”

  • I enjoyed this read very much. It helped understand deeper questions I ask myself in those tight & uncomfortable moments where I’m faced with the reality of me. For one thing The deep down Soul Joy I have now I’ve never had before, and it never leaves its permanently fixed to my Soul, and when My mind races to other places throughout the day Kids, shopping, traffic, mean people etc because we need to keep moving and living, yes enjoying moments of happiness & laughter, ( my grandboys told a joke or my daughter and I just smiled at each other, whatever it is, a good book or movie.) at any given moment though, I can reach that almost indescribable place inside because “I know” who’s daughter I now am, I know “The King” and I AM now “Safe&loved” for “ever more!” regardless of what I think I’m feeling.
    And when I go to that place in that moment I do a Happy Dance w/the biggest smile on my face you can imagine.?

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