Standard disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are the rambling thoughts of the author and not necessarily representative of Living Word Lutheran Church.
Celebrating Independence Day last weekend got me to thinking about the Declaration of Independence (yeah, I had a pretty uneventful weekend). Especially the well-known beginning statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”. The first two rights are self-explanatory – we have the right to live and the right to freedom. The pursuit of happiness takes a bit more thought to understand.
What does it mean to be happy?
We live in a world today that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness... the Great American Dream. Many people equate happiness with being successful and having fun. Fun is temporary, an outward experience often shared with others. It’s not a bad thing, but it is fleeting. Happiness should not be a temporary mood or shallow state of being. The founding fathers were not talking about “chasing happiness”, they meant the experience of happiness.. finding it and living happy. They meant the phrase to signify a combination of fulfillment, contentment, self-worth, dignity, and community or civic duty.
Pursuing happiness does NOT mean pursuing your own desires at the expense of others, or at odds with God’s way. It does not say “the pursuit of pleasure”. And it is NOT the pursuit of materialism. More money, more power, larger houses, white picket fences or whatever you believe your “American Dream” to be… these things do not bring happiness. In fact, some of the unhappiest people I know spend their lives pursing these goals.
So how can we truly be happy?
Here’s a thought… happiness comes from putting others before yourself. Sin always puts self first. God’s way of bringing life is completely different than mans’ way. Man says do what you must to make yourself happy. God says do what you must to make God happy, and in the process you will find a greater joy than ever before.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." In other words, the smaller the gap between what you should do and what you actually do, the happier you will be.
Psalm 144:15 tells us, “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD”. God is the true source of happiness, strength, hope, and wisdom. The only source of true happiness is the Lord. All of the things you receive in your life that give you happiness are because you believe in God.
Our society is in the middle of a great and turbulent upheaval right now, which is actually good news, because it has awakened us to the concept of happiness that we have been pursuing, it challenges us to examine whether or not these concepts are what we really want and/or need, and has opened up new opportunities to embrace. We need to think about what is really important to be happy.
Psalm 37:3-4 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This implies that the delighting yourself in the Lord is the desire of your heart and if you seek happiness in Christ you will find it. Happiness is not the focus, rather it is a blessing that is a byproduct of loving God. Joy is one the fruits of God’s spirit. In fact, God is Joy.
So as God (and Bobby McFerrin) tells us- “Don’t worry, be happy”.
Finally remember that the Declaration of Independence states that these “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are endowed by our Creator. Given by God…. Not the founding fathers, not the government, not our own sense of entitlement… they come from God alone.