Today is the day millions of people wish each other, “Happy New Year.” But is happiness really something we should seek? Obviously, it depends on what you mean by “happiness.” The two primary definitions employed in our modern vernacular are “pleasure” and “joy.” We say, “I’m happy my team won,” to mean, “I’m pleased with the victory.” But this is not genuine happiness; it is mere satisfaction with a condition, which will inevitably change. Real happiness is what the Bible (and Merriam-Webster) calls “joy.”
This happiness is not a condition, but a characteristic. We understand the necessity of love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But happiness? It is easily overlooked or dismissed as unattainable in this life.
From a biblical perspective, joy holds the same status as these other virtues. It is not the goal of a relationship with Christ, but a promised byproduct. Psalm 16 says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Jesus himself said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Paul lists joy as a fruit of life in the Holy Spirit.
If someone asks whether you are a happy person, you don’t really reflect on your immediate circumstances and ignore the totality of your life. If you’re honest, you go to your core state of mind. You may have won the lottery yesterday, but even that doesn’t guarantee your happiness today. Your true state of happiness reflects your overall joy in life. Scriptures repeatedly state that as His people, we should have joy, which is to truly be happy.
The last year may have been difficult for you. Happiness may be in short supply. If so, take the words of the Psalmist to heart: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 43:5, NAS)
James said, “Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” (James 5:13b, NAS) God wants to deliver you from despair and make you cheerful, so you must put your hope in Him. When this happens, it shows in our “countenance,” which in the Hebrew is paniym, a word that literally translates “face.” God’s joy, once alive in your soul, will manifest itself on your face!
If God’s word isn’t enough to make you consider your own happiness, consider two critical truths. First, your happiness affects your loved ones. How many children have been damaged by unhappy parents? The same is true for the man or woman whose spouse is perennially unhappy. An innate unhappiness reveals itself in our words and countenance. Conversely, true joy comes out, too. When it does, it impacts our loved ones. We owe it to them to cultivate God’s joy in our lives so that it will spill over into theirs.
Second, if you claim to be a Christian, your happiness impacts God’s kingdom. As a believer, your witness creates an impression on those who do not know God or who may be struggling in their faith. If you convey misery and claim to have the Holy Spirit in your life, this mixed message repels others. Let’s face it; nobody wants to be like you if you’re unhappy.
I was having lunch with a friend one day and the service was terrible. The waiter took forever to take our order, only refilled our drinks because we flagged him down, and brought the check without ever asking whether we wanted anything else. He truly seemed like he didn’t care. I was buying lunch that day and when I paused to calculate gratuity, my friend asked, “Are you really going to tip him?”
The question was legitimate. The waiter deserved nothing. He didn’t earn a dime. But I tipped 20 percent just the same. When my friend laughed and asked why I did that, I replied, “It’s not about him. It’s about me. I am a good tipper.”
That can be our attitude toward happiness. No matter what happens, we can say, “It’s not about my temporary circumstance; it’s about the eternal joy I have in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I am happy.”
God desires joy in your life – not as a mere feeling or mood, but as something that you first possess, then express to others. The human tendency is to approach happiness from a purely emotional standpoint, but if you understand it spiritually and master it intellectually, you will transform your mind and greatly improve your life. Jesus came to give you His all-consuming joy. If you own it, you can then share it. When you do, it will be evident for others to see. Then, you can really have a happy new year.