On Sunday I said that happiness is not a choice, it’s a response. And with that simple statement I banished myself to the fringes of social consensus. How could I be so obtuse? Everyone knows that happiness is a choice. You don’t have to pursue happiness, you simply have to choose it and enjoy it. In the words of Kim Kardashian, “happiness is a choice…join team happy.”
Yikes, does my dissent mean that I am on team grumpy?!
But if happiness were simply a choice to be made, then wouldn’t more of us be happy? What should we conclude about the multitudes of unhappy people? Are they all indecisive, lacking resolve, or somehow unaware of their options? That’s just silly. If the sad amongst us could banish their sorrows with a choice, they would have already chosen to do so. Experience shows that our emotions are stubbornly reluctant to take instruction.
When I was just a wee little fella, no more than six years old, my grandfather died. It was obvious to me that his funeral was a sad occasion. Many had come to pay their last respects and they all seemed genuinely sad. But I wasn’t sad. Too young to understand death, and too distant from my grandfather to appreciate the loss, I simply was not sad. It wasn’t for lack of trying either! I slunk about in a self-imposed gloom and squeezed my eyes tight, but not a tear would fall. Despite my best efforts, I could not feel sad. Our emotions are not beholden to our will.
Happiness, like sadness, is an experience that we feel in response to something definitive. Good news delights us, gifts please us, and opportunity thrills us. In our happiness, we are responding to something pleasing with an emotional state of well-being. This is how happiness always works, we like what we see and are glad because of it. Happiness is a response.
Biblically, this is how happiness is explained. The writers of scripture consistently attach gladness to good tidings. Notice the connection in the following verses:
~ “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12)
~ “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”” (Luke 15:32)
~ “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20)
~ “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad,” (Acts 11:23)
~ “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong.” (2 Corinthians 13:9)
And this selection is but a small sample of what the scriptures offer. Time and again, happiness results when the goodness of God is recognized by his people.
How then are we to be happy? You will become happy when you reflect on the glories of the gospel. When you consider the wonders of God’s love for you and the incredible future he has secured for you, you will grow increasingly glad. Immersing oneself in the gospel is the surest way to find happiness. True, this attention to the gospel implies a choice, but the choice instructs our focus, not our emotion. When we set our minds on the good news of our salvation, we will find our hearts responding with delight.
Happiness is not a choice—it’s a response. Now choose what you will respond to.