Are you happy? How do you find happiness? Is it in success? Relationships? Following your heart?

As much as our culture touts the importance of doing what makes you happy, it seems like people are anything but. Like no matter what we achieve, who we know, or how we feel, there are lingering feelings of insecurity, sadness, and hopelessness beneath the surface. They say, “You’re not good enough.”

The truth is, the pursuit of happiness will never be fulfilling–no matter what the founding fathers or anyone else thinks.

Where is your focus?

As I was going through some old notes a while ago, I found a note from 2012 that said, “When we pursue happiness, we become all about ourselves and it puts our priorities out of whack.” Honestly, I’m not sure if it was Luis Palau or Mike Romberger who said it, but it was from one of their sessions at Mount Hermon’s Family Camp on August 6, 2012. Regardless of who said it, he’s right.

When we focus on happiness, we get caught up in ourselves and what we can do to make ourselves feel happy instead of focusing on how we can be serving others. We also get stuck in circumstances surrounding us that we can’t control. 

Contentment vs. Happiness

I can’t think of a time the Bible ever told us to just be happy and act like everything is okay. Paul said to be content in all circumstances–and contentment is not the same as happiness. Truth For Life’s blog post, The Bible’s (Not So Secret) Secret to Contentment, summarizes it nicely:

Paul writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11–12, emphasis added). Notice that his contentment is immediately rooted in the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ: “I can do all things,” he says, “through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). In other words, according to Paul, contentment is a result of bowing our hearts and minds to the will of God, no matter the conditions we face. As with the apostle, it is possible for us to be neither overwhelmed by poverty nor intoxicated by prosperity.

We should take care to note here that Philippians 4:13 is not about achieving success in anything we set out to do—though that is the way the text is often used. It doesn’t promise that we’ll sink a three-pointer on the basketball court, that we’ll ace our exams, or that a stay-at-home mom’s children won’t get the best of her. This text is not saying, I can do anything I put my mind to. Rather, it says, By Christ’s strength, I can be calm in adversity, and I can be humble in prosperity. And that’s the real victory we all need.

Here’s the difference as I understand it: 

Happiness is based on external circumstances we can’t control. It’s temporary. 

Contentment is based on faith that God is using any and all circumstances for His plan, even if we don’t understand why.

When We Don’t Feel So Happy

So how do we handle those moments where we’re very far from happiness? 

It’s okay to feel all the feelings. You can feel sad, angry, frustrated, blah, whatever. In my experience, it’s best to give them to God. Forgive whoever did you wrong. Admit that you can’t control why that horrible thing happened, and you’re upset or scared or hurt. God can handle you yelling and crying about it as you take it to Him. Even in moments of despair, you can explode emotionally all over God, and ask Him to give you comfort and peace.

Then put one foot in front of the other, asking God to give you the strength and transform your heart.

Change Takes Time

I like how Brant and Sherri said it in their Jan. 11 Oddcast: “Don’t wait for the feelings to come, just start and the feelings will change.”

Change takes time, but small steps become big ones. As Zechariah 4:10a says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”

I think those feelings of inadequacy will always be there. I’m sure I will always feel like I don’t measure up and I’m never good enough–because I’m not. But because of Jesus, I am! 

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