Updated: Jan 20
“Don’t worry, be happy!” This catchy song by Bobby McFerrin, released in the 1980’s, still tings in our ears today. It suggests a simple remedy for troubling times, but we all realise it’s just not that easy. Happiness as described by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” The problem lies in the fact that life happens, circumstances change, problems crop up, people don’t do what we want them to do.
Happiness is dependent on circumstances being right.
"Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.”
Today, I read in the UK paper, ‘Mail Online’ this headline. “Generation who learnt to count their blessings in Second World War austerity are happier than their children.” According to research published in 2017, people living in 1957 were happier than today. This found that although in 1957 life expectancies were lower, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was lower, more hours were worked in a typical week and few households had central heating and less than half owned a television, levels of public happiness were at a height never reached again in the British post-War period. Researchers found no connection between economic growth and the state of human happiness in the long run.
Joy does not come from economic success. Joy has its springs deep down inside, and that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross. “… and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame ...” (Hebrews 12:2.3)
Biblical joy is choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction, because we know that God will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through our lives.
One of the most challenging Christian concepts was described by Jesus’ brother. “My brethren, count it all joy, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2,3)
We can respond to life’s trials with genuine joy if we know that the Lord has a purpose for why He would allow those difficult times of suffering and trials. In this passage, the purpose for trials was to produce patience or endurance (the ability to hold up under a trial) in our lives.
Knowing that our loving Heavenly Father is doing something specific in our lives and that He is doing what is best for us helps us respond with genuine joy. Life’s trials are certainly not fun, but we can react to those painful situations with joy if we understand that God is demonstrating His love for us through those circumstances.
Joy is a choice based on being content regardless of circumstances. Understanding what encourages joy in your life can help you cultivate it and build up your resources for when circumstances are difficult.
The spiritual fruit called Joy enables us to be content and gives thanks in whatever economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. Paul, writing not from the London Savoy hotel but from a Roman dungeon understood this. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) To Greek believers he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
The Spirit of God in us, produces this joy, if only we will allow Him to work in us. Henri Nouwen said,
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Giving thanks to God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves opens a door for Him to work. One of my favourite verses is Psalm 50:23. “But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” (NLT)