You Shouldn't Settle for Happiness

I’m not a huge fan of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I love the line, “I feel infinite.”

I’ve had a handful of what I would call “infinite” moments in my life. Where time stops for a brief moment, and my eyes are opened to see the reality of what’s going on around me.

One of my more recent infinite moments happened on my last birthday — a little present from God. I was on the light rail, riding home after a dinner with friends in Denver. It was raining. We were quiet in the car, and all of the sudden, the whole moment flowered before my heart.

The glittering of the raindrops on the windows around me, the city lights’ halo, being next to people I loved, seeing the strangers around me. I was struck by how we all, myself, my friends, and these strangers, had our different stories, and for this moment in time, our lives touched. Our paths connected. We were all in the same place, at the same moment in time. I realized the beauty of how although we all have different stories and circumstances, we’re all really fundamentally the same.

All of these things put together — it was like I was standing outside time and could see beauty everywhere. And I was just in awe of the beauty of that moment.

I like to think these infinite moments are actual glimpses into infinity that God allows me to taste in. To see the beauty of the present moment the way He sees it, just for a second.

And I know they’re a taste of genuine joy.

We say that word a lot. We hear it in the Bible a lot. But how do we find actual joy? What does it mean? How do we live joyfully? I think we get it confused with happiness.

The lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Rend Collective, said this: Happiness is not the same as joy – happiness is an emotion, a superficial response to pleasant circumstances. Joy is a spiritual discipline. We as a people are much more inclined toward negativity and cynicism. We don’t find it easy or natural to pursue joy. And that’s why God in His Word actually commands us to celebrate. We come by a Gospel worth celebrating before a celebrating king. We need to get down to the serious business of joy. We must wrestle for our blessing. We must fight for our joy… Not to be fake, or put on a false smile, but to always find a reason to rejoice, even if we’re in the darkest circumstances.”

He’s so right. I’ve come to see that joy is actually really hard. It’s a sacrifice. It’s much easier for me to get caught up in the whirl of duties and circumstances, to get stressed out, to let my anxieties and worries absorb me. So this whole joy thing, then, how do I get it? I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced moments of it, like my “infinite moments.” How do I keep that all the time?

I’ve learned a couple things through experience recently.

Joy is found when we live in the present moment. Joy is also found when we are grateful.

What the heck does that look like?

I’ve found that the two are closely connected.

First, gratitude. If I am look at my life every day and focus on what I need to do, what’s not going right, I’m living life like the Tazmanian devil. Exhausting. If I look at my life every day and list the things I’m grateful for…

I actually run out after a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I am ridiculously blessed. But what I found is that if I’m only grateful for what God gives me, not only do I limit blessing to be something that God does (and when I don’t see Him doing something, He’s not active — this is false), but I’m also focusing on me and what God gives me.

Kinda backwards.

But, if I look at God — who God IS — I can never run out of things to be thankful for. The Psalms say, “Look to God, that you may be radiant with joy!” His mercy, His love for me, His beauty, the fact that God Himself became a man, just to be with me, to suffer with me, to be my strength in weakness, to save me…that is infinite. And thinking about these things, I experience joy. Literally look to God and who He is, and you will find joy.

Second, I find that if I look at who God is to be grateful, I actually start living in the present moment, content with where I am. Right. Now. Sure, I’ll still work, plan for the future, et cetera, but looking at God to be grateful, I’m filled with awe and suddenly no longer worried. If God loves me and takes care of me, what do I have to worry about?

Of course, easier said than done. Like I said, practicing joy on a daily basis is really, really hard.

But joy is worth it. Living with joy, no matter what life throws at us, we’re content.

And there is always something to rejoice in. Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium, “Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand…There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times of life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. “

So bottom line is, we find joy when we know we’re loved by God. When we look to Him to be grateful. When we live in the present moment. Do we really believe He’s God? Are we convinced of His victory?

I know these are questions I struggle with every day, but in the end, this is the key to real joy. I don’t just want happiness in life. Happiness is cheap, it’s an emotion that comes and goes like waves. But joy is infinite, and it’s a share in the eternal laughter in the Heart of God.

So don't settle for happiness. Pursue joy. Jesus, in his infinity — Joy Himself — became an infant who came to us in darkness just to be with us and to remind us to be like children, wide-eyed in wonder at Beauty Himself.