What is Happiness?

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Happy New Year!!
French – Bonne année
Spanish – Feliz año nuevo
German – Frohes neues Jahr
Russian – S novym godom
Latin – Beatus Novus Annus
Zulu – Jabulela unyaka omusha
Hebrew – Shannah Tovah
Biblical Greek – καλὴ χρονιά
I would have done more, but I’m sure I butchered these bad enough!
Anyway, all that to say Happy New Year!
And since that is the common salutation for the beginning of a fresh new year, I thought it appropriate to talk about what exactly it means to have a truly HAPPY New Year. Or really just how to be happy in general.
Because isn’t that what we all ultimately want? To be happy. To have happiness.
After all, here in America, we consider that one of our God-given “unalienable rights”. Well, maybe not the happiness itself, but at least the pursuit there of.
So, beginning today, and for the rest of this month – five weeks in all – we’re going to talk about this thing that everyone wants at length. Starting with….what is it?
What exactly is happiness?
Dictonary.com defines it as:
  1. The quality or state of being happy.
  2. good fortune, pleasure, contentment, joy
It defines “happy” as an adjective:
  1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing
  2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy
  3. favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky
Modern Webster’s Dictionary Online
  • happiness: a state of well-being and contentment
  • happy: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
Note: While it is not accepted as a source in most school papers, I have found Wikipedia to be a good source – not necessarily for the verified absolute truth about things – but for the currently perceived truth about things, which is what most of us actually base our thinking on. So, I would argue that Wikipedia’s definition of happiness is probably the best match to how most of us actually think of it.
Wikipedia definition of happiness:
Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
A quick google search may also be helpful as, if nothing else, it will yield what popular opinion is on the subject.  I found several interesting things.
There are many lists out there titled “Happiness is…” for instance:
Happiness is:
1. Falling in love.
2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.
3. A hot shower.
4. No lines at the supermarket.
5. A special glance.
6. Getting mail.
7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.
8. Hearing your favourite song on the radio.
9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.
10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.
11. Chocolate milkshake … (or vanilla … or strawberry!)
12. A bubble bath.
13. Giggling.
14. A good conversation.
15. The beach
16. Finding a 20-dollar bill in your coat from last winter.
17. Laughing at yourself.
18. Eye contact with a hot member of the opposite sex.
19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours.
20. Running through sprinklers.
21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.
22. Having someone tell you that you’re beautiful/good looking.
23. Laughing at an inside joke.
24. Friends.
25. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.
26. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep.
27. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner).
28. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.
29. Playing with a new puppy.
30. Having someone play with your hair.
31. Sweet dreams.
32. Hot chocolate.
33. Road trips with friends.
34. Swinging on swings.
35. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.
36. Making chocolate chip cookies (and eating them…!).
37. Having your friends send you homemade cookies.
38. Holding hands with someone you care about.
39. Watching the sunrise.
40. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day.
And the list could go on…but I’ll stop.
Now, in case you are more of a visual person there are also some cool things under google images..
There are literally hundreds of these images. (happiness is – screenshot)
Here’s one that makes happiness a result of a mathematical equation. Life + Laughter x Love – Hate = Happiness
And if you take off the “is” and just search for “happiness” you get a lot of images that look like this.
So, apparently if you want to be happy you need to find some kind of beautiful scenery and do something like this…(pose)
Clearly by your laughter and smiling faces, I have succeeded in making you happy.
Happiness achieved!!
But is that really what our founding fathers were talking about when they spoke of the “pursuit of happiness?”
It’s an interesting question, especially if you are a history buff like me. I’m particularly fascinated with not just the events and stories of the past, but in the thinking of the past. Or perhaps put a better way, the concepts of the past. And it is pretty clear when you study these things, that concepts certainly have changed over time. And this is most evident in how the meaning of words change.
And the concept of happiness certainly has changed a bit since it was written in the Declaration of Independence nearly 240 years ago.
I did a good amount of research on this, though probably not enough to truly grasp the mindset back then. I’m afraid that would take majoring in early American History… But what I was able to find could easily be summed up in this quote from one of my sources:
So “the pursuit of happiness” means something like occupying one’s life with the activities that provide for overall wellbeing. This certainly includes a right to material things, but it goes beyond that to include humanity’s spiritual and moral condition.
That statement comes about after explaining that this use of “pursuit” in that time meant something more akin to an occupation, as in the pursuit of medicine or the pursuit of lawyering. Similar to how we now call it “practicing medicine or law.”
And “happiness” was less about personal gratification of desires as it was more a sense of the general wellbeing of not just yourself and included and was even dependent on an objective morality based on religion, and in particular, the Christian religion.
This becomes clear in the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts which states “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality.”
It would be hard to imagine Americans today suggesting that happiness is derived from piety, religion, and morality.
We are clearly more interested in puppies, bubble baths, and chocolate chip cookies. 

Now, while all of that is very interesting, I’d imagine some of you might be wondering if you’d accidentally wandered into a history class or something instead of a church. What does all this have to do God and the Bible and stuff?
That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked. And the answer will be clear near the end of the talk. But for now let’s turn the corner and see what God says about this subject…
So, what does God’s Word say about happiness?
Not a thing. Nothing. Nada. Zippo.
No, the Bible – in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew that is – talks nothing of happy or happiness – but it has a lot to say about joy and blessedness.
While it’s true that depending on the translation you will come across the English words happy and happiness, their Hebrew and Greek roots are actually a form of joy and/or blessed. 
I suppose that might be splitting hairs…but it got your attention didn’t it ?
Let’s take a look at those two words. And I’m going to stick to the New Testament Greek.
In the New Testament Greek….
Joy is the Greek word χαρά “chara” which appears 59 times in the NT. And it’s verb form meaning rejoice appears 74 times.
And joy is just that – joy. To be exceedingly glad.
Joy is one of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, and Paul urges us to “rejoice always” in 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
It was for the Joy set before him that Christ endured the cross.
Joy is like our concept of happiness, but clearly so much more. It’s pretty much the same in the Old Testament.
The other word that may be closer to what we call happiness is “blessed.”
Blessed is the Greek word μακάριος “makarios” which appears 50 times in the NT.
It means blessed, happy, to be envied.
describes a believer in enviable (“fortunate”) position from receiving God’s provisions (favor) – which (literally) extendHis grace (benefits).
I will be talking more about blessedness and joy in later weeks, but today we are still just trying to define happiness, of which the Greek “joy” and “blessedness” are closely related but not the same thing.

I’m sure you are all wondering at this point…
Does the Bible really NOT speak of happiness?
Well, of course it does…how else could I do a five week series on the topic?
While the actual Greek word for “happy” or “happiness” does not appear in the New Testament, I am going to show you today and the next few weeks that “happiness” is indeed in there and I would even go so far as to say that “happiness” is one of it’s major themes. 
But there is a big difference between the happiness defined in our dictionaries, wikipedia, and popular opinion and the happiness defined in God’s Word. What I will call “TRUE HAPPINESS.”
And that difference is probably nowhere better made known than in a story found in John 4.
John 4
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 
The story goes on and they go back and forth a bit and Jesus ends up revealing to her that He is the Messiah, then she goes back home telling everyone about him.
It’s a great story, commonly called the Woman at the Well. It illustrates many truths, but for our purpose today it is a great example of the difference between the world’s happiness and true happiness. 
Let’s see if we can spot it.
Let’s look at the woman first. What is she doing? 
She’s getting water. Why? Because she is thirsty or she needs it for cooking or something.
But why is she getting water from this particular well in the middle of the day? There was a well in her own home town and typically the cool of the evening was a better time to draw water. So, what’s she up to?
At first, of course, we don’t know – but then Jesus answers the question.
Apparently this woman has had five different husbands, is currently divorced again, and living with another man. Basically, in that culture she was not much better than a prostitute.  Or possibly a little worse because a prostitute doesn’t try to pretend to be respectable by getting married. She was coming to this well in the middle of the day to avoid the scorn of the other women in the village.
What else does her story tell us about her?
Does she seem like a happy person?
Five different husbands. Is the sixth time a charm or will it likely end the same way? What is she looking for?
Obviously we can’t know all the circumstances behind these various husbands, but the fact that she is up and at it again is clear that she still has it in her head that a man is going to make her happy. Surely, each one of those marriages began with feelings of love and high hopes, only to end in disaster.
Perhaps happiness for her is falling in love, which eventually fades to simply falling or fallen, time to try again.
It’s just like the well. What did Jesus say? He said that with this well, she’ll just have to keep coming back because no matter how good the water is today, she’ll be thirsty again tomorrow.
Does this sound familiar?
That’s because that’s exactly what we find in the pictures and lists of happiness in our world? They are all snapshots or activities or feelings that are only momentary.
1. Falling in love.
2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.
3. A hot shower.
4. No lines at the supermarket.
5. A special glance.
6. Getting mail.
7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.
8. Hearing your favourite song on the radio.
9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.
10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.
11. Chocolate milkshake … (or vanilla … or strawberry!)
12. A bubble bath.
13. Giggling.
14. A good conversation.
15. The beach
16. Finding a 20-dollar bill in your coat from last winter.
17. Laughing at yourself.
And so on and so on. Each one of these and almost everything else you will find that talks of happiness, talks of it in terms of these momentary events that cannot and will not last.
You can only hang out in a beautiful landscape in this pose for so long.
In short:
All sources of happiness on this earth are only MOMENTARY and require constant REFILLING.
And that’s exactly what Jesus was pointing out to this woman.
As jesus often and so masterfully does, He is talking on several different planes at the same time.
In the literal physical and immediate sense, He is pointing out the obvious fact that the water from this well will only satisfy until tomorrow when she will have to come back.
But he’s also pointing out the less obvious fact in the emotional sense that she will never be fully satisfied relying on a man or relationship to bring her lasting happiness, as is obvious by her many failed attempts.
And finally, he’s also pointing out the most important fact that at the very root of all of this is a spiritual need, that unless it is satisfied – nothing else in this life will ever be enough.
He is showing her that the kind of happiness she has been pursuing is just like the water in that well, which she must come to every day to refill. 
But then, He tells her about a different kind of water.
Living Water.
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this well water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Doesn’t that sound awesome? Do your lips get chapped just thinking about it as you realize just how thirsty you are? At least that’s what happens to me…
But at the same time – what does it mean? He’s clearly not talking about physical water – H2O.  So, he’s also not talking about physical thirst.
But the thirst he is talking about behaves the same way that physical thirst behaves. It demands to be quenched. And Jesus is saying that what He offers will quench that thirst permanently.
What is that thirst?!?
Boiled down, it’s the thirst we all have to be what we usually call “happy” because we can’t really think of a better way to describe it. Perhaps a better word that describes what we are really after is…satisfied.
  • Isn’t the feeling of happiness really a feeling of satisfaction?
  • A feeling of being full, pleased, content?
  • It’s having what it is you want in any given moment.
  • Sometimes it’s something you knew you wanted and thus pursued it and achieved it, and sometimes it’s something you didn’t know that you wanted but when it showed up you realized you did.
  • It’s a desire being fulfilled.
  • It’s a hope being realized.
  • It’s a tension resolved.
  • A stress released.
  • An itch scratched.
  • A hunger fed.
  • A thirst quenched.
And if that thirst could stay quenched. We would be eternally happy. But we all know that on this earth, that doesn’t happen. As soon as the thirst is quenched, it starts to build up again because the source of the quenching either dries up, fades away, stops working, or it stays the same but the thirst itself grows.
King Solomon observed correctly…
Ecclesiastes 1:8
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
But Jesus offers a kind of water that doesn’t fade or dry up but actually grows inside of us so that even if the thirst does grow, the water turns into a spring inside of us so that the thirst is eternally quenched regardless of external circumstances.
  • Eternal satisfaction.
  • Eternal fulfillment.
  • Eternal contentment.
Ah, there’s the word.
Did you notice that “contentment” was in all of the definitions of happy and happiness?
Contentment essentially means being satisfied with what you have. It’s the state of having your thirst quenched. 
And isn’t that what we are all really striving for?
Isn’t that what true happiness really is?
Let’s see what God’s Word says about contentment.  Here’s what Paul tells the Philippians.
Philippians 4:12
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 
Paul says here that he has “learned the secret of being content” but he takes it a bit further by saying “in any and every situation.”  In which he specifically lists times of need, and hunger, and want. How could he be content (satisfied with what he has) if he is actually in need, hungry, and in want?  Aren’t those terms antonyms of “satisfied”?
Yes they are, which means that what Paul is talking about is deeper than mere satisfaction with what one has.
The Greek word translated as “content” is αὐτάρκης (autarkés) which is actually a combination of two words – one that means “self” and one that means “sufficient” – so this word literally means “self-sufficient” but not in the sense that we typically use in America of a person who can make it on their own..
This term describes a state of “inward adequacy” or “sufficiency within” as opposed to sufficiency without. It’s a state of having all that one needs from a source that is within, thus not requiring anything external to supplement. 
This is why Paul can say that he has this in any and all circumstances. No matter what is happening on the outside – he is satisfied on the inside.
  • Does it mean his stomach doesn’t grumble? No.
  • Does it mean he isn’t cold due to lack of clothing? No.
  • Does it mean he is always comfortable or always surrounded by friends? No.
It means that even when things are not perfect on the outside, it doesn’t effect his inner sense of satisfaction.
His inner thirst is perpetually quenched.
What does that sound like to you?  
Living water perhaps?
That’s exactly where it comes from because these statements are immediately followed by Paul telling us how this is possible. 
13 I can do all things through him who gives me strength.
And if you know anything about Paul, the “him” He is referring to is none other than Jesus Christ.
The Greek is very powerful here.
The phrase “I can do” is from the Greek verb ἰσχύω (ischuó) which really means “I have strength, am strong, am in full health and vigor, am able;”
properly, embodied strength that “gets into the fray”, i.e. engaging the resistance. For the believer, it refers to the Lord strengthening them with combative, confrontive force to achieve all He gives faith for.
This is not the mere ability to endure, but to accomplish all God puts in front of me and to thrive in doing so. It’s a strength that wells up on the inside almost to the point of overflowing.
And that power, that strength, that force is provided by Jesus Christ.
My friends, I don’t know about you, but I would rather have this than bubble baths, puppies, and chocolate chip cookies. 
And this is exactly what Jesus offered the woman at the well, and what He offers to you and to me.
He doesn’t promise a happiness that is based on external circumstances. A happiness that has to be renewed moment by moment with something newer and shinier or bigger and better. He doesn’t promise to satisfy all your earthly desires so that you can be what the world calls “happy.”
Jesus offers a kind of happiness or satisfaction or contentment that fills you up so much on the inside that it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the outside. 
And this is available to all who put their trust in Him.
But notice what Paul said…
I have LEARNED the secret of being content.
This is not something that is automatic. It’s not something you get on day one. It’s something we learn through obedience.
In Matthew 11 Jesus tells us:
Matthew 11
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Another beautiful passage we like to quote that makes us go *SIGH OF RELIEF*
The yoke is what was used to harness oxen as they did their work. It symbolizes obedience to Jesus, and notice He says “learn from meand you will find rest for your souls.”
  • Rest.
  • Inner peace.
  • Satisfaction.
  • Contentment.
  • Happiness.
Contentment is learned through obedience.
So our founding fathers were right in that Happiness was something to be pursued. And while the concept of happiness may have changed a bit through the years to become much more self-centered and hedonistic, it is still something that we all fervently pursue, but not because it is an inalienable right, but because God created each one of us with a thirst that can only be quenched by Him. 
And as we do learn to lean on Him, we will start to find what Paul found, the secret to being content in all circumstances. We will start to experience that sensation of the spring of living water welling up, filling us up, quenching our thirst from the inside.
And that, my friends, is TRUE HAPPINESS. 
The happiness of the world is CONSUMABLE. 
It’s not unlike how, while I was in the Navy on the submarine, we treated happy as a tangible object that each of us possessed in limited quantities. While on the boat (that’s what we called the sub) a person’s happy was used up at a predictable and usually accelerating rate, but when we went home the happy could be replenished. However, when we went underway and the hatches were shut and we’re out at sea under the water, the only way that you could replenish your happy was by stealing it from others in usually rather cruel and emotionally scarring ways. Whenever this would happen it would be like in Sonic the Hedgehog when he loses all of his coins. Then everyone in the vicinity would pick up the lost happy and make it their own amid raucous and maniacal laughter, leaving you depressed and despondent. And if you think I’m kidding…think again.
For it was in one of these moments, after all my happy was violently ripped out of me, that I finally gave my life over to Jesus and He filled me with His living water – His living happy (so to speak). And that’s exactly what it felt like for me, like I had been filled with and overflowed with water from my head to my toes – and I have never been the same since then.
Because while the happiness of this world is something you and I constantly need to consume.
The happiness of God CONSUMES YOU. 
It fills you up to overflowing and just keeps growing and growing and growing the more you come to know Him, and trust Him, and obey Him.
And that, my friends, is better than what the world can even dream of offering.
So, now that we have defined what happiness really is, I hope you will join us for the next few weeks as I will be breaking this concept down even further and giving you practical ways that you can make this happiness yours.