If You Want to be Happy, Forget It

by Kenneth Chumbley

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper" (Psalms 1:1-3).

David's first word in the Psalms about being "blessed" points to one of God's highest aspirations for us - God wants us to be happy. Since most everyone I know wants to be happy, the revelation that God wants this for us is really good news.

But if God wants us happy, and we want us happy, why is there so much unhappiness?

It's because most people have believed the lie that says selfishness is the ticket to Shangri La; put your interests, your desires and your wants ahead of all else and life will be one constant high.

Baloney.

It doesn't work that way. Maybe in your own life you've already learned the inflexible truth that "he who loves his life will lose it" (John 12.25, Matthew 16.25 et al). Happiness doesn't come from self-centeredness; it isn't contingent on fortuitous happenings (there are, for instance, many happy quadriplegics); and it isn't correlated with pleasure (this world is filled with unhappy millionaires and jaded party-goers).

Paradoxically, you don't get happiness by trying to get it. It is, instead, a by-product that comes when we pursue something spiritually valuable outside ourselves. More particularly, it comes when we make serving others (our spouse, neighbors, enemies, etc.) our life's purpose.

And please note that happiness is never acquired once and for all in this life. For this reason wise men have always spoken of the "pursuit of happiness." The more we pursue self-denial, the happier we will be.

The accumulated wisdom of the ages has never improved on the following prescription for happiness, given by Jesus, the Son of David: happy are the humble, the sorrowful, the gentle, those with a passion for righteousness, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers and the persecuted (Matthew 5.3-12).

So if you want to be happy, forget it-and concentrate instead on developing the character that brings genuine blessing, remembering the promise that "he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25).

For Further Study

Verses to Consider

  • Deuteronomy 28:45-47
  • Psalms 37:3-6
  • Psalms 95:1-3
  • Psalms 97:11-12
  • Psalms 119:24
  • Psalms 128:2
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Proverbs 16:20
  • Ecclesiastes 5:18-19
  • Isaiah 3:10-11
  • Philippians 2:12-18
  • Philippians 4:4-5
  • James 1:2-4
  • I Peter 3:3-9
  • Jude 24-25

Questions to Ponder

  1. Can you name someone who is happy despite having a hard life?
  2. Can you name someone who is unhappy despite having an easy life?  
  3. Where does happiness come from?
  4. Can you be happy while doing chores? Why?  
  5. Can anyone really make you happy?
  6. Abraham Lincoln noted: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Is this scripturally accurate?