Everyone wants to be happy. It is therefore not surprising why the two songs, “Don’t worry be happy” by Bobby McFerrin and “Happy” by Pharell Williams became instant hits and are still popular today. This begs the question however, “Is it possible to always be happy?”
For instance, is it realistic to follow Bobby McFerrin’s advice in the song when he said,
Ain’t got no place to lay your head,
Somebody came and took your bed,
Don’t worry, be happy.
The landlord say your rent is late,
He may have to litigate Don’t worry, be happy.
I am yet to see someone who has been rendered homeless who says “I am happy”. These songs are feel good songs that give you that temporary feeling of happiness especially when you are not really going through very difficult circumstances but when you are really going through painful situations like the loss of a loved one or your livelihood the last thing you will be telling anyone is that, “I am happy”.
We have been in lockdown for over 10 weeks and since then so much has happened. Many families have lost loved ones. The UK has passed the 40,000 mark of deaths due to Coronavirus. Nobody is playing “Don’t worry be happy’ at this time. How can you be happy when all we hear in the news is about people dying or losing their jobs and businesses at this difficult time?
Joy on the other hand, especially the joy that comes from serving God, is something totally different. You can be joyful no matter the circumstances or situation you are facing. Joy is not the same thing as happiness, which is transient at best.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” While this definition describes joy to an extent, it does not give a complete picture of what joy is.
I however like the definition given by Theopedia, an encyclopaedia of Biblical Christianity. It defined joy as “ a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.”
Another definition of joy I like is the one given by Rick Warren, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
No one wrote more about joy and the Apostle Paul. In Philipians 4:4, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” It is worth noting that when Paul wrote this, he was far from being in a happy situation. He was in prison after being wrongfully arrested, had been shipwrecked on the way to Rome and survived only by God’s miraculous power after being bitten by a poisonous snake. No, Paul was not writing from a happy place, he was writing from a joyful place. He knew the God He served and trusted Him even when things were stacked against him.
One major difference I have personally seen between joy and happiness is that former is something we receive while the other is an emotion we produce. Take for instance, you can have a happiness scale from, “Happy” to “Very Happy” to “Extremely Happy”. Unlike happiness, joy has no scale. You are either full of joy or not. When we know that God is in us, He is for us and He is with us, this produces joy within us that is long lasting, no matter what the situation or circumstances we face,
One other lesson I have learnt while looking into the subject of joy vs happiness is that while happiness focuses on self, joy focuses on others. Imagine Paul writing from prison to the believers encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord. He wasn’t thinking about himself; he was thinking about his brothers and sisters in the Lord and wanted to encourage them to focus on what is important. In verse 6 of Ephesians 4 he encourages is not to worry but by prayers and supplication with thanksgiving, we should make our requests known to God.
Expressions of joy do not usually make sense humanly speaking - Romans 5:1-3. Paul was writing to the Romans about how faith in the Lord brings joy. Notice that in verse 2, Paul tells the Romans, and us be extension, that Christ brought is to a place of privilege and because of that, we joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. In verse 3-5 however, he says, “We can rejoice too, when we run into problem and trials”. He goes further to to explains that our rejoicing in suffering is based on the understanding that suffering helps us develop endurance which in turn develops strength of character and character strengthens our confident hope in salvation.
Since we now know the importance of joy, how do we cultivate it? How do we maintain a lifestyle of joyfulness?
The first thing we need to do is to surrender our lives to God. If you haven't done so yet or don't know why you should, the reason is simply this, 'All mankind has sinned and come short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23) and 'The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus' (Romans 6:23) In order to satisfy the requirements of God's justice, God Himself gave His only son to die in our place so that believing in Him, we will not perish.
Secondly, we need to cultivate a daily habit of praise, prayer and study of God's word (2 Timothy 2:15) Other things that can help us maintain a joyful lifestyle is serving God and serving others.
Let your mindset be that of Christ: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phillipians 4:8)