Biblical Principles for Finding and Maintaining Happiness
Happiness seems more elusive than ever, but the Bible has something to say
Recently TIME Magazine published an issue they called “A Guide to Happiness.” In 2021, the US ranks as the 14th happiest country in the world. This is an improvement from 18th a year ago, but still surprising. Though we live in a land of plenty and abundance, happiness still eludes most of us. Researchers found that COVID-19 tripled the rate of depression in US adults in all demographics. However, if we are honest, COVID-19 and many of the events in 2020 simply highlighted the issues and struggles that were already present.
The Bible commands Christians to rejoice (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). The apostles described themselves as “always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Those verses are easier to read and memorize than they are to apply to our lives, but we must apply them. Here are a few ways to find and maintain happiness in a world that is trying to give us every reason not to.
We do not need to seek God so that he will give us happiness. We need to seek God because God will give us himself (Isa. 55:6). This may seem cliché or trite because it is said so often and occasionally it is said in a flippant manner, but it is still the right answer. Every good gift comes from God and that includes happiness (James 1:17).
When I am praying to God about my struggles, excitements, worries, and triumphs, I am placing my problems in the right hands (1 Pet. 5:7). When I am reading the word and allowing God to remind me of who he is and all he has done, I am being built up in ways that cannot compare with what the world has to offer.
Paul says to rejoice “in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1; 4:4) because that is where true and lasting joy is found. In God, there is a joy that cannot be taken. The Psalms are filled with joy, praise, and worship. Perhaps, the key to the happiness and joy that leaps off the pages in the Psalms is the Psalmist’s heartfelt and passionate pursuit of God (Psa. 42:1; 63:1). If we want to be happy we should remain in constant pursuit of God and a stronger and deeper relationship with him.
I believe we know this as Christians, but sometimes the busyness of life and our hectic schedules pulls us away from the one we need most. Happiness is a by-product of a relationship with God, but those who seek true happiness apart from God will find neither. This is not to say that God’s children do not have bad days or struggle emotionally. However, it does mean that, for the Christian, hope remains even on the worst days and that’s a cause for joy (John 16:33).
Stop Comparing Yourself With Others
We know we shouldn’t compare ourselves with others, but we do it anyway. Sometimes we compare ourselves to others who are doing worse than us to make us feel better. Sometimes we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing better than us and it wrecks us. If we try to find lasting joy and fulfillment based on being better than someone else, or having more than someone else, we will not know happiness—at least not for long.
There will always be someone smarter, stronger, wealthier, or more hard-working than you. We must remember that we are never told to compete with our neighbors, but to love them (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8). Learn how to be happy for others without making it about you or about how you wish you were enjoying whatever it is that they have. After all, we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15).
President Theodore Roosevelt has been credited with saying,
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I think he’s right. If you want to be happy, do not compare yourself to others. You can always find someone worse than you or better than you. Our worth is not tied to the various areas in which we can outdo others. Our life is found in Christ and what he thinks of us (Col. 3:3-4). Happiness can be found and maintained by looking to God with thankfulness and looking at our own lives with contentment (Phil. 4:10-13).
Start Noticing The Little Things
Jesus was drawn to the little things—he took notice of the birds and the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:25-34). If we keep our eyes open and notice all the “small” blessings in our lives, we will see that things are often not as bad as they seem. We often sing about counting our blessings, but we really should give it a try. When we consider the air we breathe, the limbs we have that are working, the time in which we live, and God’s people and providence, we are truly blessed.
Paul wanted wealthy Christians to remember that God had given them all things to richly enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). We should take notice of the things God has placed in our lives for our enjoyment and be appreciative. People who are miserable, cranky, or just unhappy often have a “ready-recollection” of their hardships, but they forget all the good going on in the midst of dark times. Make yourself daily take note of all the little things going on in your life for good. The God who blesses us and keeps us in little ways is the same God keeping us in the most important ways.
Say Thank You
In many of the passages commanding us to be joyful, the following verses command us to give thanks (Phil. 4:4-7; 1 Thess. 5:16-18). Joy and gratitude are linked together. People who are entitled or ungrateful cannot be pleased. No matter what happens in the lives of the unthankful, it will never be enough.
However, when we see ourselves as the undeserving recipients of goodness, we will find less to complain about (2 Cor. 9:15; Phil. 2:14). Say “thank you” to God for all that he has done, is doing, and all that he will do in the future (Ps. 136:1), but don’t stop there. Gratitude should be spoken in our homes, on our jobs, and in our interactions with people. As we express thanks for things, we train ourselves to see the good and the blessings that are present all around us.
Set Your Mind on Things Above
Sometimes Christians think that setting their minds on things above is only a sort of escapism that tries to flee what’s happening in this life. However, Paul commands us to seek the things which are above (Col. 3:1-2). We are not seeking the things above so that we can ignore those here below, or so that we can escape our current circumstances. Our seeking of things above helps us to remember that this world is not our home (Phil. 3:20).
We can know that whatever we are facing here is only temporary (Rom. 8:18). We can persevere with joy because, as Christians, the best days are yet to come. Happiness comes when we realize that if life is going great here, it will improve to an infinite degree in eternity. If we hate how things are going here, we can smile because, in eternity, this life will be long-forgotten. Happiness below is found in seeking things above.
The world is in search of happiness. I think that people searching for happiness can be a good thing. As we look in every place for happiness and try everything humanity can think of, and still come up empty-handed, perhaps we will turn back to God. The book of Ecclesiastes shows a man looking for meaning, worth, and lasting value. His conclusion is that we should “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl. 12:13-14). Hopefully, this is a start toward happiness that will last as you seek the Lord and drink deeply from his goodness.
DISCLAIMER: This article does not deny that genuine clinical depression exists. Those who struggle with depression and anxiety at the clinical level should seek professional help if needed. However, professional help should be sought in addition to God and seen as an extension of the good things God has provided, and not as a replacement for God.