What makes you happy?
I have a lot of things that make me happy.
My children doing something that is funny or self-less or being good at what they do.
My wife laughing or singing or living into her greater self.
Figuring out a complex issue.
Playing through a session of Dungeons and Dragons.
Comic books, an new action figure, or finding a movie on television or Netflix that takes me back to a younger point in my life.
Do you know what makes me unhappy?
Those same things.
I don't mean the things that are in that list. I mean that my children, wife, a complex issue, a session of Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, figures, and television are just as capable of making me unhappy. They are just as likely to flip the happiness switch either way.
Happiness is fickle. Happiness depends upon circumstances that change. Some times rapidly.
Yesterday I was cruising about the internet and found a number of articles that focused on being happy and the pursuit of it. I feel that people may be looking for something that is a moving target.
I don't put much stock in being happy.
I seek, instead, to find joy or contentment.
Joy, in my personal dictionary, is the deeper state of knowing that there is always better days or things in front of you. It isn't optimism. I know it isn't because I'm a pessimist. It is looking at the future with the conscious affirmation that even if today is bad, tomorrow holds an opportunity to offer something better. Joy is the well from which happiness takes a shallow drink. Happiness claims that this is the better moment. But when the circumstance changes, we know that the moment we exulted in wasn't as good as it seemed. Joy is lasting because it is always on the horizon. It is always there to be looked forward to.
As a Christian, I have faith in a God who is real and eternal and righteous and holy and good. I have faith that God has provided access to the greater reality that exists outside of the natural/physical world. I have faith that there is a time when all of the physical world will be unraveled and the greater reality will come into prominence. That greater reality, what many call "heaven", is a source of joy. Even when everything in this world is falling apart, there is something better that is coming.
This is what the early Christians who experienced real persecution were looking at. This is what the martyrs of the early church were being transported to in spirit; singing as they suffered. It is the hope of this greater reality that produces a joy that is unshakable within us. The circumstances of this day, this moment, do not change the ultimate reality that we will experience. Some days it is easier to find joy than others. In some times of difficult circumstance it is harder to hold onto. But I am not one of perfect joy, counting all things joy.
That is where contentment comes in so handy. Contentment has really been overlooked. And it is what I am worst at living out. Contentment is the essential state of finding that everything at hand to meet the needs of life is enough. I am not content enough most of the time. But there are moments when it breaks through. I realize that everything at hand is enough to live. When joy is in short supply, I look around to see what is at hand. And as I fix my eyes on the things that are in my life, that expand my life, I begin to settle down. Contentment is a great way to rediscover my joy.
Contentment is not, however, a means to discover happiness. Happiness will always be looking for another switch flipping moment of something changing in our circumstances. Contentment leads us to the place where we discover we are not dependent upon our circumstances. Contentment recognizes that when life can continue without interruption, then that is enough. Contentment and joy can go hand in hand. What I have today is enough for tomorrow will be better. What I have to allow me to live until tomorrow will be rewarded. What I have that makes these moments in life possible paves the way for the greater reality that will come.
Happiness is overrated. Sure, the biochemicals that are released in the body give our mind a jolt of feel good, but that is all it is. Happiness is a natural reaction when certain switches are flipped in our body's biochemical factory. Joy and contentment are choices that we make. Happiness can go away just as quickly as it arrived. Joy and contentment are where we choose to dwell and we cannot be moved if we don't allow ourselves to be moved.
So I hope to be perfect in this some day. I hope that I can walk with my eyes fixed on the future, greater reality so that today's sorrows will pass without dimming my eye. I hope that I find the dwelling of contentment that will allow me to rest on the "enough" that I have at hand.
And maybe I can be happy once in a while.