In recent years there’s been lots of research done on what makes people happy. Some of it has been written up in popular books like The Book of Happiness by Heather Summers and Anne Watson. Summers and Watson point to research that says the happiest people are normally those who know and are secure in their purpose, which for many comes from their spirituality. So secular research recognises that it’s usually people with a clear faith who are the happiest people on the planet. Fascinating!
Last year, the National Organisation for Research at the University of Chicago produced a list of the 10 Happiest Jobs – presumably in the United States. Going from Number 10, they are:
10 Operating engineers
9 Financial Services Sale Agents
5 Special Education Teachers
1 Church Leaders
Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should get ordained to be happy! … but all this is a challenge to the strong secular voices making out that faith does us no good.
I know of a man who thought he’d understood the secret to happiness. In any situation he could be positive. He found he could always look on the bright side of life. Even if life was tough and difficult. Even if people were against him at times. Even if money was tight. This man reckoned he had found real, true, deep, lasting happiness. His name? It was Paul.
We read about his secret in Philippians 4:10-13 . 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.
Paul says two simple but important things in this passage about happiness that we’d all do well to embrace.
1. Happiness is NOT dependent on circumstances
Paul is very clear that happiness doesn’t depend on the money in his pocket. Whilst money is useful, Paul acknowledges that it doesn’t make him happy. And neither should our happiness be based on money. Paul says he knows ‘what it is to be in need, & what it is to have plenty.’ Either way, he’s contented.
His happiness also doesn’t depend on the food in his stomach. I love that feeling after a nice Sunday lunch. I’ve just had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. I love it! Food is good. It feeds the body, but it doesn’t make Paul happy. And neither should our happiness be based on what we eat. Paul says that he can be ‘well fed or hungry’. Either way, he’s contented.
So Paul is saying that true happiness – that feeling of deep down contentedness – is not dependent on his life circumstances, because they can easily change.
These days we could add other things to St Paul’s list of things that people think will make them happy. So we might add beauty. Many people want to be good looking, thinking that will make them happy. When I was a teenager one of the women regarded to be really beautiful was Kim Basinger. Here’s what she says about her life back then: ‘I had long blonde hair and blue eyes. I was great and could do anything – and I was in absolute misery’.
Or we could add fame. Many think that being famous makes you happy, until you hear someone like Ralph Fiennes, the famous actor saying – so starkly – ‘Being famous has not made me happy’.
Most people know this. They know that happiness is not found in having good money, good food, great looks or great fame. But what they don’t know is where to go to find true happiness. Paul tells us. It’s not based on circumstances. Or external things. It’s found elsewhere. Which is the other thing this passage tells us about happiness:
2. Happiness is dependent on Jesus Christ.
That’s what he means when he says ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength’, because the ‘him’ is Jesus Christ. Paul’s contentedness is based on his relationship with Christ,who is full of grace and gives him all he needs for all the circumstances of life. So that means that whatever he faces, it’s going to be ok. And that means that whatever you face, it’s going to be ok.
So you might be struggling with tight finances, or even being unable to properly feed your family. Or maybe something else, like stress. Or a relationship difficulty. Or health issues. Or an issue at work, with a neighbour or in church. Whatever it is, you can know contentedness even in the midst of uncertainty, because of Jesus Christ – the one who strengthens you.
In these days of recession, know that Christ will strengthen you. In these dark wintry weeks of murky mornings & often dull days, know that your happiness is based on something much more substantial and reassuring than the weather. Your happiness is based on knowing the love, forgiveness, care and strength of Jesus Christ.
That means there should be many signs of contentedness among God’s people. There should be much evidence of happiness in our midst and much smiling going on! Not false smiles, but smiles that God has put in our hearts that show in our faces – because of Jesus Christ, who strengthens us.
The world is crying out for happiness and contentedness. We have been graciously given that, in Jesus Christ. So let’s show that contentedness. And give it away. In massive doses. Let’s do it today.
Reading Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Amazing book that echoes so significantly your truths about happiness Matthew. Praise Him that He is so full of grace and compassion as He walks with us on all the different paths, ups and downs, our true source of joy.
Thanks Mark for your comment. Yes – great book by Corrie Ten Boom.
I agree, of course, but I also think there’s something about serving other people that contributes to making us happy – the jobs in the list reflect this too. That’s part of being secure in our purpose too – to serve others. I’ve certainly found that to be true in my life ….
Today I mark my recent return to our Heavenly Father with an affirmation of baptismal faith this evening at St Michael le Belfrey in York.
There can be no actual meaning to my spiritual life until I can become capable of making conscious acts of love.
In baptism begins the discovery of my true identity, because God who in Himself bears the secret of who I am begins to live in me not only as my creator but as my other and true self.
“I live. now not I, But Christ lives in Me”
There can be no higher purpose in life that to be of service to others and service to God.