Pursuing happiness for ourselves means helping someone else find happiness.
Eric S. Hartzell
I see the sign every time I leave the weekly worship service area at the care center. The sign was no doubt put there by one of the staff. Someone thought they were giving sage advice when they climbed up on a ladder and tacked that sign close to the ceiling over the doorway. It reminds everyone who leaves, “At least once a day do something that makes you happy.”
But few of the people who have to be in the care center are looking up that high when they come or go. Most of the people in our worship service don’t really have many options in their day to find something that would make them happy.
Reruns of The Price Is Right with Bob Barker’s happy “Come on down!” don’t hold much prospect of happiness.
Looking for happiness
Actually, everyone already knows that they would like to make themselves happy at least once a day. We hear the comment, “I need to do something good for myself. I need to be happy.” We maybe have even mumbled something along those lines ourselves. The United States Constitution says it too: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We all just want to be happy, and we’ll do whatever we have to in order to achieve that. That’s pretty much what drives our use of our free time, our hobby selections, our attendance at parties, and the luxuries we pursue.
There is nothing wrong with being happy. From a prison cell the apostle Paul tells us and the people of Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). But when the apostle says to rejoice, he did not have many options to do something that would make him happy at least once a day. Wouldn’t we all agree that if we were locked up unfairly we would have a hard time finding something that would make us happy? The point is not that it is wrong to do something that makes you happy; the point is that when you only think about doing things that make you happy, you aren’t happy.
Rewriting the sign
But what if we take the sign down and rewrite it? What if we change the sign to read: “At least once a day do something that makes someone else happy.” That would effectively be advice that could make you happy, even in an unfair jail cell.
That is what the apostle Paul did from prison. In that otherwise unhappy place, he told the whole prison guard about Jesus. He wrote to the Philippians and told them to rejoice. He did things for others that he knew would make them eternally happy and give them a way of dealing with the sad certainties of this life. What is happier than to have the means and ability to deal with this world’s sadness?
The Bible tells us what Jesus did to find true happiness in life. He came into our world as a human being to give true happiness: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). This was the way the man of sorrows found happiness. Do we think that when John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world . . .,” that God did it with his teeth clenched and his jaw tight? No! He loved us so much that he gave his gift. It made him happy to do this for those he loved, and he loved us all! He loved the world! When he did what he did, it made him incredibly happy because that is what happens when you do something to make someone else happy and blessed. It makes you happy.
Listen to Jesus talk to the thief from his cross. You can’t make a dying wretch like this criminal happier than by telling him truthfully that he is forgiven and that he will be in paradise before the day is out! What happier thing is there? Heaven is a happy and joyful place. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross!
Making someone else happy
When you consider someone else’s happiness first, you end up making yourself happy. You truly do! At least once a day do something that makes someone else happy, and you will make yourself happy in the process.
A care center for struggling people would not be the first place you would think of to find happiness, but you can find it there. Happiness is helping someone find the hymn in the hymnbook. Happiness is when you put the hymnbook with the proper page on the lap of someone you know is going to drop the book before the service is over. They know too that they are going to drop the book, but they smile when you put the book there. It makes you happy to lead them in singing “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” and see them retrieve those dear words from aging and hurt minds that have trouble remembering and recalling much else.
We agree that happiness is good, but let us also agree on what it is we do to get it. Isn’t Scripture coaching us on a proper understanding of getting happiness when it says, “Value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3)? Couldn’t that mean, “Consider others’ happiness more important than your own”?
A very happy way to translate the Bible’s Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 is to say, “Happy are the meek for they will inherit the earth. . . . Happy are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. . . . Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Some translations even rightfully use the word happy. The very definition of a meek person is someone who doesn’t wield sharp elbows to be first in line but lets others be first. The definition of someone who is merciful is someone who says, “I’ll forgive your faults and treat you with kindness.” The definition of a peacemaker is someone who allows someone else to win. Good and happy things often happen to the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers when they make someone else’s day instead of focusing on their own happiness.
Every person you come in contact with all day long presents a chance for you to be happy. Like Jesus, be meek, merciful, and peace loving. And share your happiness in Jesus with others.
Eric Hartzell is pastor at St. Peter, Globe, Arizona.
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Author: Eric S. Hartzell
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017
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