This might seem odd for you to hear from me, especially since I’m known for my annoyingly optimistic nature sometimes. But over the years I’ve heard our culture say over and over again:

  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Don’t worry, be happy.
  • If it doesn’t make you happy, it’s not worth it.
  • You deserve to be happy.

God Doesn’t Want You to Be Happy

There was a time of my life where I bought into this cultural message. I thought God wanted me to be happy. But the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve realized happiness shouldn’t be my goal for me, my husband, or my kids.

In fact, when I did a quick search on Bible Gateway, “happiness” only came up six times in the NIV translation, compared with:

I’m sure the results would differ a bit based on the translation since I’m not looking in Hebrew or Greek and it’s just a quick search, but it gets the point across: God places more value on love, kindness, peace, joy, and hope than happiness.


This was an idea my husband pointed out to me when we were dating, and over the course of our marriage there have been seasons when God’s helped us work on alternatives to happiness like faithfulness, obedience, and peace.

For example, early in our marriage we learned about contentment. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13:

…for 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. 

During that season of life we learned a lot about being content. We’d been married for about 6 months and moved two states away from our family and friends, so we felt rather isolated. Between the two of us we only had one part-time job, so money was tight. There were a lot of hard things we could have dwelled on, but during that season God revealed himself to us in various (and sometimes humorous) ways, providing what we needed right when we needed it. And we learned to be content.

Better Than Happiness

Our culture focuses on happiness so much, but God wants us to experience better, deeper things like joy and hope. I liked how Brant and Sherri talked about this on their Oddcast (about 5 minutes in). They said:

The Bible doesn’t tell you to seek happiness. Happiness is this thing that comes and goes, depending on circumstances. You don’t control it. But joy is a sense of wellbeing, regardless of circumstances. That’s what the Bible talks about as something you can have.


Joy doesn’t come and go like happiness does. It’s something you can have in the middle of sadness, grief, fear, and all sorts of other emotions.

As Jesus said in John 16:20:

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

And Habakkuk wrote in 3:17-18

Though the fig tree does not bud

    and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

    and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

    and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Even in economic disaster, we can find joy in the Lord (Alistair Begg spoke about this more in his Singing in the Pain podcast episode).


I think it’s also worth pointing out joy’s connection to hope. In Romans 15:13, Paul writes:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I love this verse. It’s one I think about when I pray for my family sometimes. That’s what I want for my husband and kids (and myself)–that God will fill us with joy and peace as we trust in Him, so we overflow with hope by His power.

A few chapters earlier, Paul also provides actionable steps that relate to hope and joy:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12, which happened to be the theme verse at Mount Hermon this year).

Paul makes it clear that even when we’re going through something hard, we can continue to be joyful in our hope as we patiently suffer and faithfully pray. With everything going on in the world around us, hope is so much better and stronger than happiness. 

Finding Joyful Hope

There are a lot of things to feel despair about right now: the pandemic, diseases in addition to COVID, racial inequality, homelessness, abuse…as I’m writing this, the Taliban just took over Afghanistan. I don’t have  a lot of time to read the news, but the headlines I see make me somber. I understand why the world feels anxious, afraid, and alone.

But despite the pain around it all, we can still have hope and joy. We know God will make it right. We know He’s a loving, just God that has a plan and is using the brokenness and sorrow to point people to Him. He’s told us how it ends and, spoiler alert: He wins and He’s glorious. 

The joyful hope we find in Him is so much more than the fleeting happiness our culture tells us to chase after. That’s why I don’t worry about trying to be happy, and instead I ask God to help me stay focused on Him as my source of hope, joy, contentment, and so many other better things.

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