Does God want us to be happy?
We all know the answer is supposed to be yes, right?
Take Psalm 37:4 for example: “take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
What are the desires of your heart? If you’re like me, there’s probably a long list. But they could all be boiled down to one word: Happiness.
So, yes. It would seem that God does want us to be happy. But does it always feel that way?
The Truth about Happiness
Let’s have some fun.
Write up a list of a few things that make you feel happy. I don’t mean some idealistic deep philosophical happy. Just write down experiences of happiness in the most literal sense. Here’s my list:
- Eating a big bowl of ice cream at night
- Binge watching a great show
- Staying up late
- Buying stuff (usually baseball equipment for my sons and I).
There’s my short list. It took me all of four seconds to think them up. I’m like the mouse in the experiment, pushing the lever and the cheese comes out. But there’s a problem. Here’s a list of four things that make me feel miserable:
- Feeling sick after eating a big bowl of ice cream at night
- Falling behind on my work or home responsibilities because I wasted time watching TV
- Being tired because I stayed up too late the night before
- Worrying because I blew the budget.
I’m the mouse who hit the lever and got the cheese, but it turned out the cheese is moldy!
Does God Want Us to Feel Happy
Why? Why does it have to be that way? Does God even want me to feel happy?
Guess what. The answer is no. God doesn’t want you to feel happy, either. God wants us to be happy, and there’s a big difference.
See, the world wants us to feel happy. Well, actually the world tells us we should want to feel happy. The problem is this superficial happiness now leaves us miserable later.
But God’s plan is much different. In fact, it’s flipped on its head.
God’s Plan for Happiness
God wants you to be happy now so you can feel happy later. Most of the stuff that will cause you to be happy will not make you feel happy in the moment.
This is a key realization for living the Christian life.
Rarely does working out and eating healthy make you feel happy in the moment.
Rarely does swallowing your pride and forgiving someone make you feel happy in the moment. Revenge and holding a grudge can feel so sweet. Prayer and spending time with God can feel like plain work.
Reading just doesn’t feel quite as good as vegging out on the couch.
But God’s path to true happiness isn’t found in a feeling. It’s found in being the person he created you to be.
And don’t let yourself be fooled. God absolutely made you for happiness. The universal desire for happiness is one of the most deeply seated parts of the human experience.
What Does Everyone Really Want?
Ask a young couple who just had their first kid what they want for their child. What’s their answer?
Ask an elderly couple whose kids are grown what they want for their children. What’s their answer?
I want to be happy. You want to be happy. We all want to be happy! That desire isn’t an accident. We’re designed that way. Why?
Because God is happy and any earnest and unyielding pursuit of happiness can only lead you to one end: him.
God’s plan for you is happiness. It’s pretty simple really. The problem is that simple doesn’t mean easy.
The Hard Part
I’m good at choosing the stuff that makes me feel happy now and makes me miserable later. Those choices come easy. The other stuff? The stuff that makes me be happy now so I can ultimately feel happy when I’m with God? That’s the stuff I struggle with. I can take some solace in the fact that I’m not alone. That’s not just true for me, but it’s true for you, your kids, parents, priest, neighbor, coworker, and friends too.
We’re all hitting the same levers, and we’re all getting moldy cheese.
- It’s time to make another list, a list of the things that cause me to be happy, even if they don’t make me feel happy in the moment:
- Reading a book
- Reading my Bible
- Eating healthy
- Spending time in silence and solitude
- Calling my mom
- Saving money responsibly
- Giving of my time, talent, and treasure generously
- Working diligently.
That’s a much better list than my earlier one, but I can do even better because there are some things God has given me that cause me to be happy and feel happy at the same time.
- Going on a date with my wife
- Playing with my sons
The best part of God’s plan is you can usually find a few things he’s called you to do (vocation), that will cause you to be and feel happy at the same time.
Your Plan for Happiness
So make yourself a new list. Shoot for ten things that will cause you to be happy now even if they won’t make you feel happy now. God’s ways are typically always better than yours or mine, so set about doing them.
Want some more inspiration for your ten things? Check out the ten things of Pope St. John XXIII. It’s called “The Daily Decalogue of Pope John XXIII”.
1) Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
2) Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
3) Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
4) Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
5) Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
6) Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
7) Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
8) Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
9) Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
10) Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.
Ten things. A simple list. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, but that’s OK. Ten things that will make you be happy. Be happy now so you can ultimately feel happy with God.
Just like he always planned for you to be.
Dominick Albano is a nationally sought-after speaker, having spoken at countless men’s conferences, parish missions, and other parish events. His podcast, The Best Catholic Podcast, features interviews with some of the spiritual greats of our time. He lives in Northern Kentucky with his wife and their four sons. Learn more about him and his ministry at dominickalbano.com.