Happiness is a Choice




One of the greatest geniuses who ever lived was Blaise Pascal. He was a Frenchman who lived in the 1600’s and while still a teenager he invented the calculator, formulated new functional theories of geometry, and contributed to probability theory (later to be used in economics and which laid the foundation for the discovery of Calculus in the next century). Later, he made further contributions to mathematics in axiom theory and other areas, and to hydrostatics in understanding how water behaves under pressure. When he was 31 years old he was powerfully converted. Once he became a Christian he forsook his scientific investigations and devoted himself to Christ the remainder of his life. He formulated a brief, but powerful, demonstration of the necessity for man to seek God in the midst of doubt about God called Pascal’s Wager.


He made this observation: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those

who hang themselves.”


I will tell you that not only do I agree with this observation, but I think it is one of the most insightful verdicts regarding human nature ever discovered.


All people do seek happiness. Yet it is observable, if you are not blind and deaf, that most people do not obtain it. All seek it but only some obtain it. This morning I wish to speak not on seeking it, since all do regardless, but on obtaining it.


[Illus] I had attended college in California for four years. I was working there after graduation but I secured a better job in Hawaii. When I moved there I immediately noticed that the people there were friendlier, more pleasant, and happier. Someone might be thinking, “Well, if I were living in Hawaii I would be happier, too.” Possibly. But people have the same problems all over the world. After I had been there a few years I had an experience, which showed that our circumstances have little to do with how happy we are. I had been corresponding with my wife-to-be and decided to finally visit her after four and a half years. I flew half way around the world to the Philippines. Economically, it is a disadvantaged country. Back then, many of the conveniences that we take for granted were absent there. Besides this the temperature is a sweltering 100 degrees, or near that, and humid. Yet, it was noticeably apparent that everyone I met were not only friendlier and happier than people living on the mainland here, but they were friendlier and happier than the people living in Hawaii. So much so, that after several days there I came back to Hawaii and everyone seemed cold and indifferent. Of course, they were not but the contrast made it seem so for the first few days I was back.


Caveat: I am going to use the terms “happiness” and “joy” synonymously. It is popular in Christian circles to try and differentiate these two words, saying something like “Joy is an inner state and happiness is just an outward state.” Or, something like that. However, I do not think the Scriptures make such a distinction and I view it as somewhat artificial. If you prefer the word “joy” feel free to substitute it. I like both words the same.


[1] Happiness is neither obtained by success or the achieving of one’s goals. Happiness or success: Which comes first?


You probably don’t realize it, but you answer that question every time your brain says, "I'll be happy when I pay off my mortgage" or "when I fall in love again" or "when I can retire." The formula is clear: Work harder, then you'll be successful, then you'll be happier.


We learned this formula from watching movies and TV commercials, which are heavily invested in having us believe a certain product or lifestyle will make us happy. The whole rags-to-riches American dream is based on the belief that once you finally "make it," you'll be content. But we've had ample evidence that those celebrities and millionaires aren't so happy after all.


Author Shawn Achor, a researcher for 12 years on both the chemical and psychological aspects of happiness, relates how research has shown Why the Success-Then-Happiness Formula Doesn't Work:

There are two reasons. First, every time we hit a success, our brain moves the goalpost of where success is. Second, your brain actually works in the opposite order. The happier you are, the more successful you feel (and start to act) — not the other way around. Thus our society's fundamental formula for success and happiness is inherently flawed.


Mr. Achor could have saved himself several years worth of research if he had read the Bible, because the idea that man is never satisfied when he looks to circumstances and things is testified in Scripture.


Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,

                        and never satisfied are the eyes of man.

(Proverbs 27:20 ESV)


It is a deception, a self-deception, that you will be happy when you overcome this problem, or when you marry so-and-so, or when you get a better job, or when you get a better car, or when you find a better church.


  • When you overcome one problem it will not be long before another comes your way. Then your happiness is gone.
  • When you marry that person of your dreams it won’t take long before you start to see all the imperfections that you either didn’t see or ignored before. You will be tempted to think, “I should have married Jim or Sue.”
  • When you get a better job it will not be long before some other opportunity comes before your mind. Then your happiness is gone.
  • Your car will get old.
  • The next church you go to looks good at first, until you see all the problems that it has. Your happiness flies away.


This is a natural way of thinking but it totally misdirected. It is wrong and it is sinful way of looking at things. I am not saying that one cannot seek a better job, a larger house, lovingly attempt to have your loved ones give you more of their time, or improve your circumstances. But it is wrong, and you will be severely disappointed, when you think that you will be happy if you achieve some of these things if you are not happy right now.


Even if you could maintain your happiness because of what you have what would happen if your loved one leaves you? Your joy is gone.

What happens when you lose your job? Your joy is gone.

What happens when your car or truck is gone? Your joy is gone.

What happens when your church makes a decision that you don’t like? Your joy is gone.


Happiness is neither obtained by success or the achieving of one’s goals.


Mr. Achor then goes on to assert and promote the idea of seeking happiness rather than success. This is probably a better course of action but it is still wrong. It is the best that the world can offer. The Lord Jesus Christ, however, taught something different.


I seldom quote non-Christian authors. I prefer Scripture itself and, after that, statements by great men or women of God. But truth is truth wherever it is found. We would not be so foolish as to deny the discovery of some life-saving medicine if it were not discovered by a Christian doctor. Likewise, if someone has an insight into truth and it is good then we need to uphold that. Here is a quote from a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda , that summarizes what I have just said and even adds an additional insight: “Even if life gave you at one time everything you wanted – wealth, power, friends — after awhile you would again become dissatisfied and need something more.  But there is one thing that can never become stale to you – joy itself.”


Happiness is neither obtained by success or the achieving of one’s goals.


[2] Happiness is not obtained by seeking it. This is a strange quality about happiness. If you seek after it you do not get it. But if you seek something else you get happiness too.


Matthew 6:25-34: In this passage Jesus tells us not to be anxious. Anxiety arises when we seek after things but have a great uncertainty about whether we will obtain them. Anxiety is the result of being discontent. And, contentment and happiness are nearly the same thing. Therefore, this passage applies with equal force to seeking happiness as it does to seeking things that we perceive we need.


Note verses 31 and 32.        Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.


These things for which the Gentiles seek arise out of a sense of need. But do we not desire these things because we think they will make us content or happy? The Father knows what we need. Here is the operative question: Does not the Father also know what will make us happy? Of course he does! He knows what we need and he knows what will make us happy! Praise Him! We have an omniscient God! Glory!


Verse 33 is the key.   But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

When we seek righteousness we not only get what we need, we also receive what makes us happy. Why is that? Two reasons: 1. First, God’s laws, God’s commands, are all for our own good. He created us and knows what we need at every level. At the level of what is right, at the level of need, and at the level of happiness. When we live according to his will we discover that this is what we truly wanted all along.


[Illus] To take just one example, pre-marital sex, we can see the results of disobedience to God’s law. In this area one has two choices. One can follow God’s law and wait for marriage for sexual activity or one can cohabitate without marriage. Which leads to a better life? Married people have better emotional and physical health than unmarried people. A 2004 report from the National Center for Health Statistics found that married people are happier and healthier than widowed, divorced, separated, cohabiting or never-married people, regardless of race, age, sex, education, nationality, or income. They also experience the lowest amount of serious psychological distress, and drink and smoke less.


Marriage is the safest relationship for women. A 2002 study found that cohabiting couples reported rates of physical aggression in their relationships three times higher than those reported by married couples.


There is a wealth of evidence that children raised by their biological, married parents have the best chance of becoming happy, healthy, and morally upright citizens in the future.


Some of the most important benefits children receive from married parents are love and attention. This makes them less likely to engage in behaviors such as premarital sex, substance abuse, delinquency, and suicide. A Swedish study of almost a million children found that children raised by single parents are more than twice as likely as those raised in two-parent homes to suffer from a serious psychiatric disorder, to commit or attempt suicide, or to develop an alcohol addiction.


Compared to children living with single parents, children conceived by married parents are safer; they are less likely to be aborted and less likely to be abused or neglected. A 1998 study found that children in single-parent families are more than twice as likely to be physically abused than children living with both biological parents.


Children with married parents have better emotional and physical health than those raised by single parents. A 2000 study from the journal Pediatrics found that children from single-parent homes are twice as likely to have emotional and behavioral problems as are children living with both parents.


Economic Benefits: Children with married parents fare better economically. In the United States, poverty rates among children living with single mothers are five times higher than those of children living with married parents (35.5 percent versus 7 percent). [20] Also, children from intact families are likely to have higher-paying jobs as adults.


So, we see that both for the adults and the children involved in any relationship there is greater psychological health, greater physical health, more safety, and greater income for those who abide by God’s law and marry before sex.


2. The second reason that seeking righteousness leads to greater happiness is that: When we love the Lord, which is what obeying Him is an expression of – obedience is a display of love in the heart, he rewards us. The Lord rewards love for him!            Delight yourself in the LORD,

                        and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Psalm 37:4 ESV) One of the greatest promises in all the Bible!


Therefore, we see that seeking righteousness not only grants the kingdom and righteousness, but happiness and contentment as well!


Happiness is not obtained by seeking it.


[3] Happiness can be, and should be, under the direction of the human will. Two weeks ago we talked about what the soul is. It consists of the mind, emotion, and will. It is the psychological aspect of who we are. The human will always takes its cue from the mind. The mind directs the will and the will directs our actions.


Happiness is an emotion. By emotion I mean a state of being characterized by feeling. Since happiness is an emotion where does it come in?


Here is the way most people, even Christians, live their lives:


Emotion > mind > will


Generally, people go along pretty evenly if they do not have any emotions driving them. Then something will happen in their life that will stir up an emotion. It could be any emotion: anger, fear, affection, and pity. But our concern is happiness.


Most people experience happiness when things go their way. It just spontaneously arises in them. But, we have already seen that getting happiness this way is transitory. It is short-lived.


What happens is that they experience happiness. Their mind realizes that they are happy because they got what they desired. So, then the mind directs the will to get more happiness. How? By getting more of what they desire. This is a dead end as we have seen. It leads to a life with ups and downs of emotions.


Here is the way God designed for us to experience happiness (and all emotions):


Mind > will > emotion


How do we know this is true? Because the Lord has commanded us to rejoice. He has commanded us to be joyful. Joy is just a synonym for happiness. If the Lord has commanded it then it is clear that joy, or happiness, is under the direction (or should be) of the will. We can choose to be happy!


We consider the better condition of being happy. We decide to be happy. Then we are happy. The idea is, indeed, that simple. The achievement, not so much.


However, seeing that this is the way it should be and can be, how can we (as Captain Picard would say) make it so?


[4] How can we choose to be happy?

[A] The first matter is knowledge. Knowing something is half the journey to doing something. And, by God’s grace, we now have that knowledge. Just knowing that your happiness is your choice is to be half the way there. It is the most important thing. Your happiness is not contingent upon:


  • Your circumstances,
  • Your possessions,
  • Nor your achievements.
  • Your happiness does not depend on anything outside of you.
  • It depends on you! You can choose to be happy!

Here is a quote from an unknown source: “Happiness is a decision. You are as happy as you decide to be.”


That is so true. Believing it and knowing it just about makes you happy! Although that was from an unknown source perhaps our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, said something very similar: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”


[B] We walk in the spirit. Jesus was filled with joy in the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, joy must come from the Holy Spirit. Joy is already in the Holy Spirit. We only need to be walking in the spirit to have it fill us. But, even though this is so very true, we still must engage our minds. We are whole persons, not divided persons.


[C] Remember that God is sovereign. He is in control of your circumstances and he has you where you are presently. This means that you are where you are supposed to be right now (as long as you are not living in a sinful situation). Therefore, recognizing God’s sovereignty and His goodness towards you, you must know that you are where you are supposed to be and there is no reason for you not to be happy.


[D] Recognize that you already have more than you deserve. Unless you are already perfect, you have sin in your life. There are vestiges of rebellion still in your heart. Therefore, you deserve nothing. But God has given you much already and you are still alive.  Be Grateful! Be thankful for what you have. Someone once said: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.”

You already have more than you deserve, so you must know that there is no reason for you not to be happy.


[E] Finally, all that is left for you to do is to make the choice. A verbal affirmation is a good way to do that. “I choose right now to be happy.” There may be some here that are not happy. You can change that right now.

[Illus] I use a prayer journal when I pray in the morning. This prayer journal has prayers written in it that one can use. There is one line in one of those prayers that I just love. It is this: “I will rejoice in Thee, my Great God! I will live this day truly happy to be your child, your heir, your servant, and joyous beneficiary.” Oh, that is good!


Conclusion: Paramhansa Yogananda again: “If you do not choose to be happy, no one can make you happy. And if you choose to be happy, no one can make you unhappy.”


“Learn to be secretly happy within your heart in spite of all circumstances, and say to yourself: Happiness is the greatest Divine birthright – the buried treasure of my Soul. I have found that at last I shall secretly be rich beyond the dream of Kings.”


“We have to choose to be happy and keep choosing it.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen