Listening to Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations,” with leading spiritual teachers, I’ve observed eight recurring questions Oprah asks of her guests. As I’ll likely never be a guest on Oprah’s podcast, I thought, “Why not write a series of blogs, based on Oprah’s questions?” This is what I might tell Oprah, if given the chance.
“What is the secret to a happy life?”
In certain markets, Amazon now offers a service called “PrimeNow.” Certain products can be delivered to your door in an hour, or less. According to the sign, at least one secret to happiness is the ability to purchase and receive you Amazon order in one hour. Happiness has never been easier, or timelier!
But what if the product you desire isn’t available? What if the delivery truck gets caught in a traffic jam? What if impulse shopping becomes an addiction? What if Amazon accidentally delivers the wrong item? What if the item is damaged, or doesn’t fit, or isn’t the right color? What if you spent more than you can really afford?
What if you get what you ordered, and you’re not happy?
I think the question itself is interesting:“ What is the SECRET to a happy life?” If happiness is as easy as an online order and one hour delivery, then what’s the big secret? We obviously just need to quit reading this blog and go buy something – unless you don’t happen to be in a “PrimeNow” market. In that case, maybe happiness is a secret.
My first response to the question is, “Good luck!” If happiness is your goal, you’re in trouble. Don’t get me wrong. Happiness is a wonderful thing. I experience happiness everyday. I’m happy right now… mostly. Well… I guess I could be happier.
The problem is, happiness comes and goes. Happiness is entirely based on circumstances. As in the case of an Amazon PrimeNow order, you might experience happiness when your order arrives, or you might experience disappointment or dissatisfaction, or even frustration and anger. You might indeed be happy for a moment. But, that particular happiness will pass, needing to be replaced with more happiness. If happiness is the goal, we’ll end up constantly chasing one source of happiness after an another, left with unhappy moments in between.
Pursuing happiness is a like an addiction, always needing another hit or fix.
May I suggest joy is a better goal than happiness? Though it’s possible to experience both joy and happiness simultaneously, it’s possible to be joyful even in unhappy moments. Happiness is about pleasure, whereas joy is more closely related to the feelings of peace and contentment. Joy is a deep-seated, pervasive sense of wellbeing, nourished by happy moments, but sustaining in difficult ones as well. Whereas happiness is entirely experiential, joy is more deeply soulful, drawing from a much deeper spiritual well.
Let’s be honest. Life is hard. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) NO KIDDING!!! No one – NO ONE – gets through this life without some measure of heartache. We all experience disappointment, loss, grief, illness, pain, insecurity, sadness. Perhaps one secret to a happy life is knowing you won’t always be happy! Expecting to always be happy, and never unhappy, is doomed from the start!
But, joy on the other hand…
Which leads to my second response. If joy is more aligned with contentment, what is contentment? The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Contentment is essentially about acceptance. Rather than living with a misguided, over-blown sense of expectancy or entitlement, contentment is accepting the good and the bad as they come. Contentment doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the good times, thankfully. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a season and a time for everything. Contentment also doesn’t require a false Pollyanna disposition, pretending challenging times aren’t really challenging. No one is expected to be content with suffering, abuse, illness, poverty, or injustice. Rather, a holy sense of contentment accepts the typical moment’s of life – good or bad – whatever comes, even if we’re not really happy about it.
I’ll be the first to admit, contentment is hard. I rarely feel content. There’s always something else I think I need or want. DIScontent comes much more naturally, and is so easily satisfied with a box of donuts, or binging on Netflix, or an online purchase. Satisfied, that is, temporarily. Feelings of discontent ALWAYS return.
Which leads to my third response. The secret to true, godly contentment – I’m told – is trust and faith in God. I can be more joyful and content if I trust God’s got my back. I can be content, even in my pain, if I sense God is giving me comfort and strength. I can handle today’s financial challenges, if I really believe God will provide my daily bread. I can deal with today’s losses and setbacks, if I believe in the God of grace and new beginnings. I can handle today’s rejection, if I’m secure in my relationship with God.
Like I said, I’m not very good at contentment. I believe in God – obviously. But, I’m not nearly as trusting as I ought to be. Some days I do better than others.
And, closely related to trust and faith, in God, is hope. Today might not be so great. But, if I trust God, I can hope for a better day tomorrow. If not tomorrow… well, just keep hoping.
Which leads to my final response. Happiness and joy are directly related to gratitude. If I feel entitled to what I want, I may not experience much happiness, even if I get it. If my expectations are unreasonably high, I may live in perpetual disappointment. But, when I’m grateful, I’m happy, even for the small things. And, there’s always SOMETHING to be grateful for. Even when something makes me unhappy, I don’t have to try very hard to think of the many things I can be grateful for – family, faith, work, blue skies, a cool breeze, the glass of ice tea sitting on the table beside me, the movies I plan to watch tonight, the laptop I’m typing this on, knowing that someone will read this later (hopefully!), life. There’s always something to be grateful for. In fact, really mature folks know to be grateful even for the hard stuff, because the hard stuff often makes us stronger and more appreciative of the good when it comes.
I hope to be that mature, someday.
Right now, what are you grateful for? Name ten things. No, twenty. No, name fifty!
So, what is the secret to happiness? IT’S NOT A SECRET! The Bible’s been teaching it for years. Forget about happiness – that’s the secret. Forget about it. Enjoy it when it comes for a visit. But, don’t worry about happiness. Instead, seek joy. Learn to be content. Know God, trust God, put your hope in God. Be grateful – for little things and big things, and maybe even the bad things.
That’s the secret. Of course, it’s easier said than done. That’s why we’re so obsessed with finding something, anything, someone, anyone to make us happy.
Now, what am I having for dinner? It better be good! I’d hate to be unhappy.