Are You “Happy”? [v112]

JUNE 2008

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” comes from one of the greatest documents in American history—The Declaration of Independence. These might be the “rights” for every American, but I question that “happiness” comes from a “pursuit.”

When was the last time you found real joy ‘outside’ of yourself? Nothing with a ‘price tag’ has ever brought me ‘lasting’ joy–and its delight usually ‘died out’ relatively quickly. Friends and family have disappointed me (and I’m sure I’ve disappointed them) when their ‘priorities’ changed and did something that made me ‘unhappy’.

If there’s any “pursuit” in any of this, I think it is an ‘internal journey’ that LEADS one to joy, rather than an external thing or circumstance providing it.

Consider every formula you’ve heard or read about for living a happy life—become wealthy; accomplish great success; achieve the perfect body; find Mr. or Mrs. Right; climb Mount Everest; purchase a Rolls Royce; double your Facebook friends; etc. But, it doesn’t work. It won’t satisfy. It will never ‘produce’ the life you want.

There’s a bestseller book that Barbara Ann Kipfer, a PhD in England, wrote after a 20 years of research, entitled “14,000 Things To Be Happy About” (the “Revised and Updated Version” no less!). Here’s an example from the back cover: Smile lines, a Hawaiian beach shack, podcasting, children at recess, garden gnomes, downward facing dog in yoga, comfy chairs in large bookstores, pot stickers, bobsledding, painting the ceiling sky-blue, guitar lessons, and one perfect day.

None of these things are necessarily ‘bad’, and they help us remember our blessings, but all of them are ‘outside’ things. Most people think, “If I just had enough money, I would be content.” But the fact is, most wealthy people aren’t content. Rockefeller, who had a net worth of about $100 million, was asked how much wealth does it take to be happy. His answer was quick and to the point: “Another million dollars.”

That’s human nature. Money never brings contentment. I heard someone say once that a person with six kids is certainly more content than a person with six million dollars. Why? Because a person with six million dollars wants more!  :-)

So, I am saying that the life NOT WORTH living is about seeking happiness ‘out there’—in people, places and things. Even some religions place “God” somewhere out there to be sought through a system of rules, rituals, precepts, principles and practices. Happiness is the temporary satisfaction of a felt need, and is dependent on all kinds of conditions or circumstances.

Just as life circumstances can produce temporary bouts of happiness, they can also produce experiences of pain. But there is a difference between “pain” and “suffering.” Pain is a natural ‘response’ to life circumstances, whereas suffering stems from depending upon these circumstances as our ‘source’ for well-being. For example, if you don’t get the CEO job, you will naturally be painfully disappointed because it’s something you ‘DESIRED’. However, if you are depending upon getting the job as the ‘SOURCE’ of your happiness in life, you will be utterly devastated. See the difference?

I believe we live in an utterly discontent culture. This became very apparent to me when the kids and I were at Disney World a few years ago. If there is any place on the planet where kids should be happy, content, and filled with joy, it would be Disney World. But, as we walked around the park, I saw so many miserable kids. They were crying, and whining, “Why can’t I have this?”; “Why can’t we ride that?” I was amazed at the discontentment that I saw there.

We are discontent with what we have (or don’t have); we are discontent with what we look like (or don’t look like); with who we are married to (or not married to); with our vocation, our church, our circumstances, etc.

Is this how it’s supposed to be? If not, can we ‘learn’ to be content?

To try to answer this, let’s look at two mindsets: The ‘positive’ mindset is one of joy and happiness, and the ‘negative’ mindset one that needs something or someone to make one happy.

People with this ‘negative’ mindset usually need certain ‘things’ before they can be joyful— “If I just had a new car”…”If I could just get that degree”… “If I was out of debt”… “If I could only be President of this company”… “If I only had ___________” (fill in the blank). This kind of person is also dependent on other people to make them happy— “If I only had this kind of spouse, I would be fulfilled”… or “If I could only get rid of my spouse, I’d could really be happy again.” These kind of people always are thinking that happiness WILL COME, “When I finish this project”… “When I get married”… “When the kids move out”… “When I retire”…

The ‘positive’ person, on the other hand, ‘creates’ a reason for joy—whether or not the children are healthy, or the report from the doctor was good. Whether or not they have as much as the neighbors, or if they got the promotion. The positive person always ‘claims’ joy—TODAY.

Everything of any lasting nature related to joy—comes from what we THINK ON—not what we own, not what someone provides, and not what will someday happen in the future.

To put what I’m trying to say in the ‘form’ of the Declaration, to me, life is a ‘gift’ from God; liberty is ‘pleasure’ we enjoy and defend here in America; and “happiness” is a choice!

Consider, what I think is a very compelling example of contentment presented in the Bible—of the Apostle Paul. Here’s what he wrote after being ‘victimized’ in jail for over 2 years:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” [Philippians 4:8].

Then he said, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” [Philippians 4:10-11].

Wow—he “rejoiced” not because the circumstances he was experiencing were wonderful (remember, he was in jail), or because everyone liked him (most hated him) and applauded his efforts and appreciated him (they wanted him dead)—he CHOSE JOY—and this is from undoubtedly one of the most ‘ambitious’ men in all of Scripture (someone that had previously persecuted those who didn’t agree with him religiously).

Paul tells us here that he LEARNED contentment—it wasn’t something that he always had. The word “content” here is from the Greek word “autarkes.” It means: “to be self-sufficient, to be satisfied, to have enough.” It indicates a certain independence, a lack of necessity of aid or help, to be contained. It was used in extra-biblical Greek for a person who supported himself without anyone’s aid. Paul is saying, “I’ve learned to be independent of external circumstances. I’ve learned to be self-sufficient.” Paul was totally independent of man—because he was TOTALLY DEPENDENT upon the God of the Bible.

Notice what Paul says about his contentment, “I have learned.” The Greek word he used for “learned” was “manthano”—it means: “to learn under discipline, to learn by experience.” Contentment didn’t come automatically, he had to learn it through the experiences of life. If we are going to have contentment, we must learn it—it doesn’t come naturally.

Paul learned that contentment isn’t found in success, or accomplishments, or prosperity, or fame, or power, or prestige­–even though he experienced all of those things during the course of his lifetime. Paul learned that the secret of contentment is not in any ‘external’ experience.

Finding contentment in life is not a matter of making a wish list of achievements and acquisitions and marking them off one by one. Contentment is within our ‘reach’ even if we never get those things that are on our wish list. Contentment is not a by-product of affluence, achievement, or acquisitions.

The way I see it, contentment is derived from the following things.

1. Contentment Comes from Trusting God Even When Life Seems Unfair.

Though not ‘easy’ all the time, we can trust God because He is sovereignty ruling the universe and all that happens in it. So, when life seems so unfair, we must remember that God can take our worst difficulties and work them out for good in our lives and the lives of other people.

The Bible tells a story about what Joseph said to his brothers who hated him and sold him into slavery:

“And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” [Genesis 50:20].

We cannot prevent what may occur, but we can all choose how we will respond to it.

2. Contentment Is Developed by Being Certain of God When Life Is Uncertain.

It was only by going through days and nights of uncertainty that Paul discovered that God knows how to take care of His children in uncertain times. And, He not only will meet all of your needs, He will likely enable you to discover the very purpose of your life by permitting you to ‘walk through’ your problem. God can use every circumstance in our lives for good, if we will allow Him to do so.

3. Contentment Comes When We Learn to Be Satisfied with the ‘Basics’ of Life.

This is a tough one for our American culture because we don’t seem to be content with anything. We are far, far beyond just food and clothing. We eat for entertainment, and possess every kind of gadget imaginable—and we still want more!

Our prevalent media choices don’t help either. I believe that the purpose of all advertisement is to produce discontentment. It is geared to create a need that you didn’t know you had, so you will go out and buy what you don’t need, with money that you don’t have. The goal of TV producers is not necessarily to put programs on to entertain you, but to make you buy their advertiser’s products and services.

It seems to me that Americans have developed a concept of life that says, “The whole of life is a process of meeting my needs.” Where does that come from? Well, most recently, it came from Freud and the teaching of “humanism”—which says our existence is to satisfy ourselves and there is no God.

One of the big problems is that we don’t know what our needs are, and our culture is trying to define those needs for us. Here we may want to consider what Jesus had to say about this: “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” [Luke 12:15].

Does being content mean that we should never buy a new house or car? If we are content with the house and car we have, we should just keep it until it falls apart­–right? No. Being content doesn’t mean that you never seek to ‘improve’ on what you have, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be ‘dependant’ upon those things for your contentment or happiness. If you have the means to purchase something, then that’s okay. But don’t let your lack of means cause you discontentment. God will give you what He desires you to have through the means of work or inheritance. So, be content with whatever you have.

4. Contentment Is Perpetuated by Being Concerned for the Well Being of Others.

If you live only for yourself, you will never be content. Contentment begins to be a reality when you have more concern about how it is with others than about how it is with you.

Again, Jesus responded to the priests and leaders of His day when they asked Him what the most important things a person can do in this life by saying to love God entirely, and love your neighbor (others) as yourself—and that everything (the “Law” and the Prophets had said) can be reduced to these.

Most of us will never experience contentment, because we ‘demand’ our own way. We want to force everything into a mold that we have made. For example, we want our husband or wife to be exactly the way we expect them to be in order to fulfill our expectations—and we want our children to absolutely conform to our pre-written plan, which we have ‘ordained’ for them to fulfill. We want everything in our world to fall into its perfect niche.

The thing is, we will never know contentment until we get away from the idea of designing our own agenda and lose ourselves in a preoccupation with the WELL BEING OF OTHERS.

The Apostle Paul reinforced this concept by saying, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” [Philippians 2:3-4].

Let me ask you… What are you living for? Is your contentment based on what you may gain for yourself or on what you may do for others? I contend that if you want to find contentment in this life, you need to put others first.

G. W. Target wrote a short story in 1973 called “The Window” that illustrates powerfully the choice we all have of living for self or living for others:

“There were once two men, both seriously ill, in the same small room of a great hospital. Quite a small room, just large enough for the pair of them—two beds, two bedside lockers, a door opening to the hall, and one window looking out on the world.

One of the men, as part of his treatment, was allowed to sit up in bed for an hour in the afternoon (something to do with draining the fluid from his lungs), and his bed was next to the window. But the other man had to spend all of his time flat on his back, and both of them had to be kept quiet and still. Which was the reason they were in the small room by themselves, and they were grateful for peace and privacy, none of the bustle and clatter and prying eyes of the general ward for them.

Well, they used to talk for hours and hours, about their wives, their children, their homes, their jobs, their hobbies, their childhoods, what they did during the war, where they had been on vacations, and all of that sort of thing. Every afternoon, when the man in the bed next to the window was propped up for his hour, he passed the time by describing what he could see outside. And the other man began to live for those hours.

The window apparently overlooked a park with a lake where there were ducks and swans, children throwing them bread and sailing model boats, and young lovers walking hand in hand beneath the trees. There were flowers and stretches of grass, games of softball, people taking their ease in the sunshine, and, right at the back, behind the fringe of trees, a fine view of the city skyline.

The man on his back listened to all of this, enjoying every minute—how a child nearly fell into the lake, how beautiful the girls were in their summer dresses, then an exciting ball game, or a boy playing with his puppy. He could almost see what was happening outside.

Then one fine afternoon, during some sort of parade, the thought struck him: Why should the man next to the window have all of the pleasure of seeing what was going on? Why shouldn’t he get the chance? He felt ashamed and tried not to think like that, but the more he tried, the worse he wanted a change. He’d do anything!

In a few days, he had turned sour. He should be by the window. And he brooded and couldn’t sleep and grew even more seriously ill, which none of the doctors understood. One night, as he stared at the ceiling, the other man suddenly woke up coughing and choking, the fluid congesting in his lungs, his hands groping for the button that would bring the night nurse running. But the man in the other bed watched without moving. The coughing racked the darkness—on and on, choked off, then stopped, the sound of breathing stopped—and the man continued to stare at the ceiling.

In the morning, the day nurse came in with water for their baths and found the other man dead. They took away his body quietly, no fuss. As soon as it seemed decent, the man asked if he could be moved to the bed next to the window. They moved him, tucked him in, made him quite comfortable, and left him alone to be quiet and still.

The minute they had gone, he propped himself up on one elbow, painfully and laboriously, and looked out the window.

It faced a blank wall.”

Joy is a choice—it is a result of a DECISION to be happy.

In the short story, one man illustrates the desperate desire for circumstances to make him happy—the “pursuit” of happiness is that bed by the window. But, the other man illustrates the deliberate ‘CHOICE’ of joy regardless of his circumstances!

Which one are you? Are you the SOURCE of joy for others?

In my opinion, the life of Jesus is the most compelling example of this concept. Few people will ever endure the extent of physical pain inflicted upon Jesus, or be so utterly rejected and despised as He was. And yet, He was always at peace. Why? Well, I think it was because the source of His peace was not His human circumstances, but knowing about His ETERNAL FUTURE.

Until a decade ago, I didn’t realize that I could have this peace, too—and not only that, but it was within my ‘reach’—it was mine TO CHOSE!

Do you realize you have this peace available to you, too?

When Jesus said that the peace He gives “is not as the world gives,” He was seeking to awaken people to a whole other way of life—which, by the way, IS WORTH living! It’s ALL ABOUT a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus—one, as the Apostle Paul states is more important than even his very life!

So contentment comes from trusting God even when life seems unfair; being certain of God when life is uncertain; learning to be satisfied with the ‘basics’ of life; and most importantly, being concerned for the well being of others.

If you really want to be content, remember what the Apostle Paul told his friend Timothy, “Godliness which leads to contentment is great gain”—so, seek to be “Godly,” and you’ll be content.

All this is to say that until you come to the place in your life that you understand that God is sovereign, is ordering everything for His purposes, and is working all things based on the counsel of His will, you will always be discontent—because you’ll try to control everything in your life, and you’ll be frustrated when you can’t.

So, let me encourage you to experience the total inner transformation that can happen by PURSUING a relationship and dedicating your life to Christ. Jesus will help you stem the ‘discontentment’ in your life, enabling you to live more ‘fully’ in the present, just as He will ‘guide’ you in the wonderful plans He has for you—and most importantly, prepare you for an ETERNITY WITH HIM!

[Excerpts by David B. Curtis; Jim Palmer; Chuck Swindoll]

[Click this link to read about how you can have contentment in this life: ]


If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at:

Once there was a tree….. and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree…….very much. And the tree was happy.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said “Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy”

“I am too big to climb and play”, said the boy. “I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?”

“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have no money, I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy.” And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time… and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, “Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy.”

“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm.  I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?”

“I have no house,” said the tree. “The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy.” And the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. “Come, Boy,” she whispered, “come and play.”

“I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy. “I want a boat that can take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?”

“Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree. “Then you can sail away…… and be happy.” And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy…. but not really. And after a long time the boy came back again.

“I am sorry, Boy,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you—-” “My apples are gone.”

“My teeth are too weak for apples,” said the boy.

“My branches are gone,” said the tree. “You cannot swing on them”

“I am too old to swing on branches,” said the boy.

“My trunk is gone,” said the tree. “You cannot climb”

“I am too tired to climb,” said the boy.

“I am sorry,” sighed the tree. “I wish that I could give you something—— but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump.”

“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy. “just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”

“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”

And the boy did. And the tree was happy.
[Shel Silverstein]

You evangelists of encouragement, you are so much more than you know.
You have never let what you couldn’t do stop you from doing all you could.
You are salespeople; your briefcases are filled with a product called Hope.
You are explorers, knowing that once you have gone as far as you can see, you will see farther.
You are singers spreading the melody of consideration.
You are lawyers making a case for life.
You are the authors helping others add more pages to their books of memory.
You are comedians dispensing the medicine of laughter.
You are artists who paint pictures of health on the canvas of imagination.
You are magicians creating real miracles that inspire patients and families.
Like King Arthur and Joan of Arc, you are warriors battling against the villains of negativity.
Dorothy would have reached Oz much faster in the company of one nurse, for no one can practice your profession unless they already possess a brain brimming with wisdom, boundless courage, and a heart filled with love.
You are living proof that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, and the name of that God is Love.
God bless you, and keep up the good work. You are a gift and you are a gift to your patients.
[John Wayne Schlatter]

“Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

I hope you enjoyed some of these insights. Share them with your friends and colleagues, so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from—and more to share with! Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” especially if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” [Philippians 4:11].


Disclaimer: All the above jokes and inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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