I recently attended a workshop by a well-known local psychologist on the topic of CBT and mindfulness. He mentioned that from talking to clients he has found that most people are searching to for “happiness”. For example we toll away at jobs that we do not enjoy for the end result of retiring comfortably and being “happy”. Of course, these culturally prescribed routes rarely produce happiness and sometimes people find they are the opposite of happy even while pursuing happiness. Depression is widespread in our culture(and among those who follow Jesus) and is characterized by hopelessness and lack of will to live and isolation/withdrawl from relationships.
For those who follow Christ I wondered if we too are aiming for happiness? The teachings of Jesus surprisingly do not seem to advocate for the goal of happiness and when happiness is spoken off it appears in an upside-down manner. For example in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) Jesus speaks of being blessed or in some translations “happy” when we are poor, mourn, meek, merciful and persecuted. It seems that happiness, instead of a goal, is a by-product of a lifestyle of both weakness and righteousness. In all of this we are called to “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:12). Somehow we are supposed rejoice- celebrate – an action- not a mood stated- with the challenges in this present life with the insight and hope that God will reward us in heaven.
I have been meditating and memorizing Philippians 4:4-13 for the last month. Philippians was written by Paul from prison to the community in Philippi. He too is advocating a joyful/happy action “Rejoice in the Lord always I will say it again Rejoice”. It is in this passage that he explains that he has learned to be content in any and every situation (Philippians 4:11). This goes counter to our cultural “quest” for happiness through the usual route.
However, unlike mindfulness which aims to find inner peace through the moment Paul emphasizes that we are content in the Lord, who strengthens us. We rely on God’s strength to renew us and give us the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding”.
Being and feeling happy is cherished for a reason- it renews our spirit, we can keep on going in this hard challenging world. Can followers of Christ really hope to be happy? What can we say to clients who hope to be happy? Is it even an achievable goal?