What Will it Take to Make You Happy? / Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 17, 2019
Rev. Donald P. Beaumont

Luke 6:17-26

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven;

 

Who do you think is happier, people who have won the lottery or people who have become paralyzed after an accident? You may be surprised at the answer.

Yes, lottery winners are very happy, but not for very long, after six months they went back to their previous levels of happiness. On the other hand, accident victims are sad, but surprisingly after six months, they also go back to their previous levels of happiness. Think about that for a moment. Six months later both groups, those who had won the lottery and those who had an accident and were paralyzed had returned to their previous state of happiness. I don’t know what that says to you, but it says to me that happiness is an inside job. Our circumstances don’t determine how satisfied we are with our lives. Something else, on the inside makes the difference.

The same studies on happiness were conducted with a group of college professors. They were asked how happy they would be if they got tenure. For a college professor tenure means that they’re given a permanent job from which they can be fired only under extraordinary circumstances. These professors answered that, if they got tenure, they would be very happy for the rest of their lives.

Another group of professors were asked how unhappy they would be if they did not get tenure. They answered, very unhappy for a very long time. And again, when researchers went back to them six months later, every one of these professors had gone back to their previous level of well-being whether they received tenure or not. If they were happy before, they were happy six months later, if they were unhappy before, they were unhappy six months later. Interesting.

We all believe in, because of our constitution, in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what is happiness? Is happiness something that can be obtained by pursuing it? Is it a product of circumstance or surroundings? Is it about money in the bank, a diploma on the wall, the respect of one’s friends and neighbors? Or does it depend on something else, something entirely different? Think for a moment: What would it take to make you happy, really happy? 

Jesus talked about happiness, but not in the same way we would talk about it. In fact, He turned our understanding of happiness upside down. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, He made some unique and unusual statements about happiness which we know as the Beatitudes. Luke, gives us a condensed version of some of those stirring statements: 

Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Happy are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

Happy are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Happy are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Happy are the poor? Happy are the hungry? Happy are those who weep? Most of us are more comfortable with the word “blessed” than the word “happy” in these circumstances. But the Greek word makarios, which most translators of the Bible translate as “blessed,” can also be translated as “happy.”

In fact, many authors who have studied the pursuit of happiness have observed that the happiest people on earth are not those who pursue happiness, but those who seek God and serve others.

A man who never would go inside a church. But he would hang around in the vestibule. And when the ushers went away, he would open the door just a crack so he could listen. But he would never venture further than the vestibule. There are many who physically have got past the vestibule, but, mentally, they’re still listening through a crack. They’re only getting a tiny bit, a faint suggestion of the Gospel.

But Jesus said, ‘Drink of it all of you’ If you take the whole of Christianity, you are going to become so happy, so enthusiastic, so optimistic, that life will be altogether different for you. Then you will walk in the newness of life. Then you will have absorbed the quality, the essence, the depth and the height, the glory and the power of Christianity.

So, let go of that gloom, let go of that depression, let go of that discouragement, let go of that weakness, let go of that sense of failure. Get yourself with Jesus, really, personally. Go to Him, pray to Him, tell Him you want to live with Him, tell Him you want to be guided in your life by Him.

And I will guarantee, on the basis of everything I have seen happen in my ministry, that you will become optimistic; you will become victorious; you will have peace in your heart; you will love people; you will feel good physically and emotionally. You will have a wonderful life. 

You may agree with that or not, but I believe something that the world just doesn’t get. Happiness isn’t something that happens to you on the outside, but something that happens on the inside. 

In the first chapter of I Corinthians, Paul says that the wisdom of God shows the world’s wisdom to be foolishness. No clearer statement of this principle is found in the Scriptures than in Jesus’ statements about happiness. They turn the world’s value systems upside down. Happiness or blessedness isn’t found in wealth or power or pleasure or a full belly. Some of the happiest people on earth are some of the poorest people on earth. And some of the richest people on earth in terms of material goods are some of the most miserable people on earth.

It’s a curious spiritual principle that the more we have, the more we demand out of life. So often it’s the person who appears to be blessed, with all the external trappings of the good life, who is so easily miffed at God, while the person who has very little feels a much greater sense of gratitude for life’s little joys and pleasures. 

This isn’t to say that in order to find happiness, we need to give away everything we possess. That might help or it might be the worst thing we could possibly do. It might fill us with so much resentment, or even worse, with so much self-righteous pride that we would be intolerable. However, that some of us have our values all out of whack. That’s why we’re so miserable. There are only two sources of happiness in this entire world. One is a right relationship with God. The other is a right relationship with our fellow human beings. Everything else is unimportant. Poverty or wealth, handicap or health, surrounded by loved ones or weeping beside a lonely grave, we can still have joy within, if we understand the source of happiness.

Happiness isn’t dependent upon circumstances but on an inner certainty, that we’re loved, accepted; that we belong to God

How sad it is to see so many people go through life without discovering this essential principle that happiness comes only from a right relationship with God and with others.

This is why so many people today are unhappy. It is why suicides are growing among both young people and older people alike. We’ve bought into the notion that happiness comes by being surrounded with pretty things.

The adage that money cannot buy happiness has been affirmed time after time. According to scientific studies, once our basic needs are met (shelter, food, and basic education) income makes little difference in our levels of happiness, except in extreme situations.

Even celebrities are beginning to recognize that. David Letterman was quoted recently in the New York Times. I’m a person who spends a great deal of his time wondering why he’s not happier. I’ve found that the only thing that does bring you happiness is doing something good for somebody who is incapable of doing it for themselves.

The reason that people of faith are happier people is that they generally have more stable relationships, and they have a greater sense of purpose for their lives.

Nothing gives us a greater sense of happiness then helping someone who truly needs our help, and of course there are those who abuse this trait of being a Christian, they only want to exploit our willingness to help. The trick is to let Jesus determine who is the truly needy and then we act. When that happens, we can be truly happy and we can stand before God and we can respond with these words; Dear God, Thanks for letting me visit. I had a wonderful time.

Is that what you would like to say when you come to the end of your life? Dear God, Thanks for letting me visit. I had a wonderful time. You can, you know. Look to Christ, focus your eyes on the cross and look for people you can serve. You will find a secret to life and happiness very few people ever find. You will have found the road to happiness. And you’ll be able to say Dear God, Thanks for letting me visit. I had a wonderful time.