Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Have Faith, Be Happy?

Last week, Bonnie Gray over at Faith Barista posed this question for her ongoing blogging jam on faith: How does your faith connect to your happiness?

I thought back to something that happened to a friend of mine many years ago. She walked out on her husband and children to (eventually) marry a co-worker. And her reason was that “God wants me to be happy.” Well, that was the reason she gave. It was a lot more personally palatable to say that than “I’m destroying my family because I think I’ve fallen in love with another man.” In a real sense, she was assigning responsibility for her own actions to God.

I’ve been suspicious of happiness ever since.

It’s not one of the major themes of the Bible. There are about 20 references to words translated as happy, including quite a few in Psalms. But happiness as a concept is mostly connected to obedience and service. There is no statement or passage or teaching in the Bible that could conceivably be stretched to justify abandoning your family because “God wants me to be happy.”

The point of the universe is not our individual happiness. Somewhere along the line we decided that the Declaration of Independence (our creator endowing us with certain inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) was biblical. The pursuit of happiness may be American, but that doesn’t translate into happiness being the point of our faith, or why God created us in the first place.

We’re called to be faithful. That doesn’t mean we’re called to be happy. Nor does being faithful mean that we will automatically be happy, at least in the sense we understand it.

I think of happiness as a temporal, and temporary, thing. Too many things can overcome it. It’s more a fleeting emotion as opposed to a steady state of being. If someone asked me if I was a happy person, I would have to think about it, but I think I would say I consider myself a blessed person, and that’s more important than my notions of happiness.

To see more posts about faith and happiness, visit Bonnie at Faith Barista.

Photograph: Happy Face by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Jerry said...

I really want to be everyone else. But it is fleeting as you say, often down from one moment to another. I wish what you said wasn't true at times. But in the end to be blessed is more on target. My brother when walking through the slow death of his wife to cancer exuded an undercurrent of joy. Joy is slightly off subject but as I observed him, happiness wasn't present but joy was.

H. Gillham said...

Glynn -- I have missed you. :)

I used to teach my students that happiness is a pretty transient feeling that "joy" was a better one -- so Jerry, you and I had the same thought... but Jerry's is much more poignant.

I recently read a line from a book about a woman who had left the church for a while, and when she came back years later admits, "I forgot how joyous faith can be..."

Happiness. Fleeting. Moments of your life... but...
Joy? Eternal.


Unknown said...

I like being happy...but happy doesn't cut it when times are tough. I rather have faith in a Father who loves us so. Good thoughts bro'

Michael said...

I tell people all the time something similar...

I tell them that there is a difference between happiness and joy.

Louise Gallagher said...

And I cannot be happiness when it is at the expense of other's happiness too -- it is part of our interdependence -- to be my best, my best must also create joy for you.

Real Live Preacher said...

This is a brave post. And a true one. I might say that the scriptures do not promise happiness but do command faithfulness.

But there are hints that faithfulness brings a deeper kind of happiness. Maybe joy, as someone noted above.

S. Etole said...

well said ...

Anonymous said...

Hope you don't mind me being honest, but hearing "God wants me to be happy" makes me want to punch someone in the face. Not that I would, but it's ridiculous justification.

Great post, Glynn.

Marcus Goodyear said...

Yikes. When people pin their decisions on God it is the worst kind of taking God's name in vain. (Maybe the only kind that really matters.)

As for the pursuit of happiness... at least Jefferson changed it from the pursuit of property. Somehow we seem to have absorbed that commercialism anyway, though.

David Rupert said...

we have no "right" to happiness. And I bristle whenever I hear that associated with God.

Maureen said...

Compelling read.

I'm less concerned with happiness (do we even know what it means?) than having, as Meister Eckhart wrote, "the hope of loving or being loved" (that, I think, is very real). With the latter, all the rest is possible.

Rumi, perhaps, said it best:
". . . If you put your heart against the earth with me, in serving / every creature, our Beloved will enter you from our sacred realm / and we will be, we will be / so happy."

Deidra said...

One day I realized that the root of happiness is similar to happenstance. Happiness is based on what is happening (or not) in the moment. Then there's joy...different and more abiding.

Thanks for this, Glynn.

Bonnie Gray said...

"Too many things can overcome it..." Ain't that the truth! I am more enamored by the word faithful, as you remind us we are called. It has beauty, not because I am, but because I have the freedom to chose this. Because I have a God who is faithful to me. I think happiness will be forever in heaven, because that is where God will be. And all of my faith friends, too! ;) Thank you for being a part of encouraging us to keep faith fresh, Glynn - and adding this to the jam!

little learner said...

Yes Glynn! Well said.

My favourite "happy" verses are the Beatitudes
(although some translate the word as "blessed").

Our world would say "Happy are the rich, for they will be comfortable and have anything they desire." "Happy are the revelers, for they know how to party!"

Jesus says, "Happy are the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . ."

We don't understand real happiness, because (as you so succinctly put it) "the point of the universe is not our individual happiness." We just automatically think it is all about US. When really, it is all about HIM!

Thanks again.
I was blessed through you!

lynnmosher said...

Amen and amen, Glynn!