I think happiness might be overrated. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great stuff, happiness. It’s just not worth pursuing in most of the ways we (I) pursue it. Here’s why:
Because of joy.
Joy is not the same thing as happiness. They’re not even related, much like an elephant and an electrical outlet are not related.
Happiness comes and goes, depending (as Eugene Peterson so eloquently put it) on glands and weather. The word itself comes from “happenstance” – the stuff of life that just sort of happens to us apart from our choosing.
Meanwhile, joy is steady, dependable, always there – it can be chosen. It wants to be chosen.
Contrary to popular belief, happiness can indeed be bought. It can be acquired. And when it runs out, we can just go and buy more of it. Unfortunately, it’s like salt-water: fun to swim in, unable to quench a thirst.
Joy is a gift. It can’t be earned or traded for or purchased. It can only be received gratefully, like a thirsty person whose glass was just filled to overflowing with fresh, cool water.
Happiness builds theme parks. Places you can take your kids and wait in long lines, overspend your budget by a few hundred dollars, and come home with much too much junk.
Joy builds lives. Lives that can withstand tectonic shifts and hurricane-force winds and come out the other side stronger and more loving.
Happiness is a cupcake for one.
Joy is a feast for a massive extended family and three hundred of their closest friends.
Happiness looks to its right and left to make sure it’s really happy, wondering if it could, in fact, be happier somehow. It can only exist in comparison to suffering.
Joy looks straight ahead at a road full of promise, unwavering in its small steps toward even more joy.
Joy can not only co-exist with suffering, it makes the suffering matter. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same priceless coin.
Happiness is pleasant. It’s nice to have around and we’re always sad to see it go (it’s always leaving too soon, isn’t it?).
Joy is powerful, Mt Rainier-like in its permanence, a constant reminder that we are small and it is big and so – paradoxically – we need not be afraid.
The greatest symbol of happiness is the smiley face, a clown’s grimace.
The greatest symbol of joy is the cross, the very definition of love.
Because joy is a quiet confidence that God is good, no matter what.
That no matter how I feel or what’s going around me or what uncertainties await me, God is good, and therefore, I am safe. I am secure. I am whole because I am His.
Happiness is not a bad thing. I like being happy. But happiness is also a very temporal thing. And at the end of the day, joy smiles at happiness and happiness smiles back and falls asleep in its little bed while joy keeps watch and keeps working, putting the world to rights, anticipating the dawn.