Happiness And Externals

One of the most neglected truths of the gospel is that life for a Christian should be eminently happy. But the happiness which belongs to Christians is not limited merely to seasons and circumstances which would bring joy even to the unbeliever. Observe that in the following passages, the Christian is enjoined to be happy even in the face of pain and persecution:

2 Corinthians 12:10 -- Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong

1 Peter 3:14 -- But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 

1 Peter 4:12-13 -- Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

Whereas happiness for the unbeliever is regulated entirely by "good experiences," this is not true for the Christian. As we see from the above scriptures, Christians can be happy amidst what might be called "bad experiences." This leads us to the conclusion that happiness is not dependent upon externals -- the things that happen to us from day to day.

A little reflection will illustrate the truthfulness of that statement. There are numerous people in this world who are afflicted with some crippling, blinding, or otherwise disabling disease or injury. Yet, a good many of these victims have been able to achieve a high degree of happiness. The converse of this is also true: We all know people who have health, wealth and friends. Yet some of these are miserably unhappy! This should prove beyond any doubt that happiness does not necessarily depend upon external circumstances.

This brings us to a search for the real definition of happiness. Dr. John A. Schindler, of the famous Monroe Clinic, Monroe, Wisconsin, has come up with one of the most “workable” definitions I have seen. He says happiness is -- "A state of mind in which our thinking is pleasant a good share of the time." Did you get that? Happiness is a state of mind! It does not depend upon external circumstances. Another famous psychologist, Dr. Matthew N. Chappell, wrote, "Happiness is purely internal. It is produced, not by objects, but by ideas, thoughts, and attitudes which can be developed and constructed by the individual’s own activities, irrespective of the environment." The interesting thing about these definition by psychologists is that they appear to be consistent with what the Bible has taught all along!

People of the world try to find happiness in sensual pleasure, riches, fame, possessions. It is true, of course, that such things may cause a “pleasant state of mind.” But its duration is short-lived. When happiness depends upon such changeable things, it is going to be a rare occurrence in the lives of those who so seek it. For the least financial reverse, the slightest loss of approval and the vaguest feeling of ill-health will plunge them into pits of despair. The unfortunate thing is that this description is not limited to unbelievers. Many Christians are plagued with unhappiness because we have been misled to believe that happiness is the result of external events. We, too, become miserable when the worldly foundation of our happiness cracks and crumbles. But Christians, above all other people, ought to and can be happy, in spite of the circumstances of our lives.

Let us now draw some practical conclusions based upon the foregoing truths:

  1. Since happiness is a state of mind or pleasant thoughts independent of the environment; therefore, we must carefully control our thoughts. Right thinking is an important gospel theme. Paul said: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” – Philippians 4:8. We must let our minds be directed by the word of God. We must think of all the wonderful blessings we have in Christ Jesus including the glorious hope of Eternal Life.
  2. We must learn to distinguish between external events and our own opinions of them. Most of our unhappiness arises, not from the actual things that happen to us, but from our opinion of those things. For example, suppose someone fails to speak to us, Oh, how upset and unhappy we get! But, consider, what made us unhappy? Certainly not someone’s silence! What upset us was our thoughts or opinion that their silence indicated disapproval or rejection of us! The event itself was insignificant and powerless to make us unhappy. Our own evil thoughts created that unhappiness (see 1 Corinthians 13:5). Let’s not make the quality of our lives dependent upon our prejudiced and evil thoughts!
  3. We must learn not to “relive” unpleasant events of the past. It is a proven fact that the human mind makes no emotional distinction between real and imagined events. Have you ever been terrified by a noise you imagined to be a prowler, but which turned out to be a branch moving in the wind? The imagination is a powerful thing and must be controlled. If we allow ourselves to imagine all the unpleasantness of the past, we become as miserable as if it were presently happening. The scriptures point out that we are to forget those things of the past and set our minds and efforts on the goals before us (see Philippians 3:13-14).

The sum of all we have been trying to say is: Christians, let us Rejoice – Be happy in the Lord. Whether we are rich or poor – Rejoice! Whether we walk in peace or persecution – count it all joy! Whatever our circumstances, let us be happy! Let our thoughts be regulated by the word of God. “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say Rejoice” – Philippians 4:4.