Where does Happiness come from?
Today happiness is being studied by social science and written about more than ever before, but 2,000 years ago a man named Paul wrote a short letter to the young, persecuted church in Macedonia and revealed some amazing truths about how to find happiness in the midst of difficulties.
Today we learn how to intentionally pursue happiness in 2019.Read More
I’d like to start today with a thought experiment.
Think for a moment about the happiest, most joyful person you know.
I don’t mean someone who is excessively sentimental or anything like that. Think of someone who is authentically happy.
They have joy.
They’re grateful in their life.
They have a confidence in God.
They’re optimistic when they think about the future.
They just kind of breathe life and energy into you.
Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with that person?
I have some people like that in my life. I can hardly get enough of them. I just look forward to every moment I’m with them.
Then, alternatively, bring to mind the unhappiest, most joy-challenged person you know.
Think of someone who is negative.
Someone who is bitter.
Kind of a complainer.
Kind of a martyr.
Someone who says “no” a lot.
Think about that person.
Don’t look at them. Don’t poke them in the ribs. Just think about them.
No one wants to spend more time with that person.
Then think about places.
Where is the happiest place on earth?
My kids would say Disneyland.
For me, I’ve found I love the idea of going to Disneyland more than I actually love going to Disneyland.
I remember one year my mom went with us to Disneyland in August. I don’t know why we chose August to go to Disneyland. It was about 120 degrees, and the lines were 2 hours long.
The kids were miserable. They felt sick because it was so hot.
I got mad. “Do you understand how much we paid for you to be here today? So you stand in line, and you wait two hours, and you go on those rides, and you be happy… or I will give you something to be happy about!”
Kind of a famous, effective parenting line.
So often life is this way — I want it to turn out a certain way, and then it doesn’t.
Then I was thinking about our church. I was thinking:
What if our church became the happiest place on earth?
What if our church became famous for joy?
What if you were to approach your God-given joy potential as a human being?
What if anytime anyone came to a service here —
They might be an outsider.
They might be a stranger.
They don’t know the Bible.
They may be all messed up.
But when they came in here they just felt happy. They felt embraced. They felt like we were a bunch of people who just genuinely wanted to be here.
What if when people heard the word Christian, instead of thinking judgmental or proud or something like that, they just thought joyful? People who are able to laugh at themselves.
There’s a standup comedian who’s Episcopalian. He came up with the 10 top reasons for being Episcopalian. Some of them apply to us at Blue Oaks. Here’s the list — the 10 top reasons to become Episcopalian.
10. No snake handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female — God created them; male and female — we ordain them.
7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. The church here is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday. (That’s not Blue Oaks. Sorry about that.)
3. All the pageantry, none of the guilt.
2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.
1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.
We’re hungry for joy, but everywhere it seems to be so elusive.
The guy who came up with that list was Robin Williams.
Robin Williams was an Episcopalian. Lived here in the Bay Area for so many years.
I don’t know about you, but I loved Robin William’s stuff.
Good Will Hunting
Good Morning Vietnam
Dead Poets Society
Just to name a few.
If there’s someone who can make us laugh, we’ll pay them all kinds of money because we want to be happy.
When Robin Williams died our whole nation went into a time of mourning… because there was this guy, and he just seemed to bring so much joy, and to think inside he had to struggle with so much sadness just made a lot of people sad.
Mental health experts say depression is about 10 times more common in our day than it was in the 1960s — even though we’re a lot richer and better educated.
We’re richer, smarter, sad people.
They say the average age for the onset of depression in 1960 was 29 1/2. Today it’s 14 1/2.
Fourteen-year-old kids should not have to carry that weight. There’s something wrong.
So we’re launching into the new year with this series called Happy.
Happiness is being studied by social science and written about more than ever before by far.
But we’re actually going to root this study in the book of Philippians.
Joy is the great theme of that little New Testament book.
The words for joy — rejoice, rejoicing — are actually used 14 times in those four chapters, more than any of the apostle Paul’s other writings.
What’s amazing is Paul actually wrote it when he was in prison.
He was in chains.
He was in disgrace.
He was in big trouble… and he can’t stop talking about joy.
So we’re going to start with the beginning and go through this letter over the next several weeks.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy
The first time we see that little word in this letter. “I always pray with joy — always —
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this,
That’s another word used a lot in this letter. Kind of odd. Paul is in chains in prison. “I’m confident.” He faced life with a lot of confidence.
that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
This is a remarkable letter.
And there’s a surprising truth about the joyful life that’s hidden in the very first line.
Generally in the ancient world, letters began with a simple formula.
Kind of like in our day we just start, “Dear, so-and-so.”
In the ancient world, they would start a letter from so-and-so to whoever it was being written to, “Greetings.”
When Paul wrote, he most often included a little title that belonged to him.
To Ephesus — “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”
To Timothy — “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…”
To Corinth — “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”
In this letter to Philippi, he used a very different word to describe himself.
To Philippi — “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…”
Not apostle. Servants.
Why does he describe himself as a servant in this letter?
Well, Philippi was a very elite community. It was actually a colony of the Roman Empire, and historians say Rome was the most status-conscious, status-obsessed society in the ancient world.
And Philippi was kind of an outpost, but it was a Roman colony, so if you were a citizen of Philippi, you were actually a citizen of Rome.
It was maybe the most status-conscious community in the Empire.
It was built on the pursuit of honor and self-advancement.
In Philippi, the way to be happy was to climb the ladder… so Paul starts his letter to Philippians by using a word no one in the Roman Empire would ever use to describe themselves.
He says, “I’m a servant.”
Literally, he uses the word for slave. He goes as far down the ladder as you can go.
He says, “I’m not the master of a pleasant life or the ruler of a successful life; I’m the servant of a great cause.”
This brings us to what might be called the happiness paradox that will be at the core of what we talk about in this series. That is…
Happiness Paradox — I will never be happy if the ultimate goal of my life is for me to be happy.
I will never be happy if the ultimate goal of my life is for me to be happy.
You will never be happy if the ultimate goal of your life is for you to be happy.
Happy is one of those things that comes only as a byproduct when we’re pursuing something else, something bigger, or something better.
There is, it turns out, something that’s way more important and more significant and better than the happy life, and that’s what might be called the meaningful life.
There’s a difference between the pursuit of meaning and the pursuit of happy. There’s a study based on this at Stanford.
And it turns out happiness without meaning actually becomes very shallow and extremely self-centered.
That’s why it doesn’t ultimately pay off.
I’ll be happy if things go well.
I’ll be happy if my needs are met.
I’ll be happy if my desires are satisfied.
I’ll be happy if I can avoid pain and everyone likes me.
I focus, then, on my circumstances.
People don’t have a job and they think, “I’ll be happy when I get a job.”
Then they get a job… and then there’s pressure and stress and challenges.
Then they think, “I’ll be happy when I retire and I’m done with my job.”
It’s really interesting, studies on this stuff.
When people retire, what happens very often is happy may go up temporarily, but meaning actually goes down, because they don’t have any place to give.
People get a chunk of money, and they think, “If I just had more money I would be happier.”
Then they get it, and they spend it on themselves (more stuff, bigger house, newer car, nicer trip), and happy goes up for a moment… but meaning goes down.
Or people don’t have kids. Really interesting thinking about this one.
People don’t have kids, and they think, “I would be happier if I just had kids. If we could get kids in the house, I would be happy.”
Then they get kids in the house, and they think, “I’d be happy when the kids get
out of the house.” Very interesting.
People have this kind of fantasy that parenting will be a series of magic moments —
chubby little arms reaching out to hug you all the time
brilliant children earning straight A’s
starring in the school plays
It’s so interesting.
If you Google the partial phrase, “Is my child…?” Just the first part of that question.
The number one word to come next is gifted. That’s the number one question on Google. “Is my child gifted?”
Because if my child is gifted, I’ll be happy because it’s a confirmation I am passing on my world-class genes to a world that’s just waiting to get them.
People have all these ideas of, “I’ll be happy.”
Then they actually get kids…
and there are dirty diapers
and temper problems
and sleep deprivation
and having children is costly, exhausting, stressful, and draining…
And happy actually goes down when people have children.
Guess when it goes back up? When they leave 18 or 20… or 30 or 40 years later.
Marital satisfaction (again there is research on this) actually goes up at that point.
Happy goes down with kids… but guess what?
Meaning goes way up.
And when people get to the end of their lives, it turns out it’s meaning that matters.
God has made us so we will actually grow in sustainable joy when there is increased meaning in our lives.
In other words, if you aim at meaning, you tend to get happy thrown in. If you aim at happy, you will get neither happy nor meaning.
So if we want to reach our joy potential as followers of Jesus (as a church and as individuals) we actually need to look at what’s better than the happy life and that’s the meaningful life.
So I want to give some observations about a meaningful life that actually leads to joy.
Joy comes when I practice kindness and generosity.
Joy comes not when people do for me what I want.
Joy comes when I do for other people what they need.
This is where Paul is going with the Philippians in this ladder-climbing culture.
He actually instructs us to do it the other way around.
Look what he says about relationships in Philippians 2
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.
He climbed down the ladder, not up the ladder… because that’s where meaning is.
Now I have to ask Jesus for help with this because I don’t do this naturally.
It was the middle of the night recently. My wife and I are in bed. It’s dark. Suddenly, we hear a noise downstairs.
It sounds like someone is walking around, bumping into things — like someone has broken into our house.
My wife said, “What’s that noise?”
I said, “I don’t hear anything.” Although I had to say it loud enough so she can hear me over the noise.
I just didn’t want to be the one to go check it out.
Why are you all looking at me like that? No one here ever does this? I’m the only one?
There’s this weird truth about us. We think we’ll be happy when we get what we want, but actually both happy and meaning turn out to be about what we give.
It turns out joy is actually way more associated with what we give than what we get.
It turns out the single most reliable activity that increases people’s sense of well-being is when they do an act of kindness for someone else.
Jesus knew what he was talking about!
This week as kind of an assignment, do an act of kindness for someone.
Start with the people closest to you.
Find something small.
It doesn’t have to be dramatic.
It doesn’t have to be big or costly.
Run an errand for someone at home.
Voluntarily help someone with a project at work.
If you really want to have fun, find someone at work who you don’t get along with well (someone who is kind of cranky or difficult) and just do them a favor for no reason at all.
Take brownies to a neighbor.
Visit someone who’s in a nursing home. Go see them. You’ll light them up. You’ll make their day.
I’m moved by stories from our Care Pastor, Lisa Herrington, who serves every week in Senior Centers all over the Tri-Valley. I often wonder how it’s sustainable. But you talk to her about it and she’ll tell you, “I get more out of it than I actually give.”
We’re wired that way. That’s the joy of the open hand.
Go to a senior center (go with Lisa)
Go to a jail
to a special needs class
to a neighbor
to a classmate
to someone who’s alone
to someone who’s hurting
There is meaning… and then joy comes.
Alright, number 2
2. Suffering can interrupt the happy life, but it is powerless to stop the meaningful life.
It’s really important we talk for a bit about suffering.
When you look carefully at human beings, when you look at the Bible, when you look in the gospels, we often find this oddity of great joy in the midst of great suffering.
This is why we have to talk about suffering and joy.
The test of authentic joy is — it’s compatible with deep suffering.
It’s like these little flowers popping up in the cracks in the sidewalk. You just can’t keep them down.
In the book of Acts we read Paul was in Philippi. Remember, he says to the Philippians, “Every time I think about you I’m grateful.”
When he was actually in Philippi the Philippians didn’t treat him all that well.
When he was there, he actually ran into huge opposition.
He was falsely accused.
He was arrested.
He was stripped of his clothes.
We’re told, not just that he was beaten… Think about this happening to you. Think about how you would respond if this happened to you. He wasn’t just beaten. He was severely beaten, arrested, and thrown in jail with his feet in stocks.
This is Paul.
The Philippians said to him, “We’ll give you something to be happy about.”
Look at this. Acts 16:25:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God,
Arrested, beaten, humiliated, stripped in prison, and he’s actually singing hymns to God.
and the other prisoners were listening to them.
I love that the writer of Scripture put that phrase in there. Like what else are the other prisoners going to be doing at midnight in a prison?
In elite Philippi, in the middle of wealth and status, two prisoners make a dungeon the happiest place on earth.
Do you know what song they were singing?
“It’s a Small World After All.”
Now how should we respond to suffering?
Should we just say, “Well, then we’ll close ourselves off to joy”?
It might seem like it at first, but that ends up being a very unproductive road to go down.
Imagine a funeral where it was said of the person who died, “Because of all the suffering in the world she refused joy. She lived a depressed, negative, cynical life. She cultivated an attitude of chronic despair in solidarity with sufferers everywhere.”
No one would say that…
Because the best response to suffering isn’t hopelessness; it’s usefulness.
It’s not despair at what’s going on; it’s determination to make a difference.
The best prayer in a suffering world isn’t, “God, make me miserable.” It’s, “God, make me useful.”
We all can do that.
In a suffering world I can help a hungry child through Compassion International.
I can help a suffering friend with a visit or with a prayer or with a card or someone who needs something.
Some of you are suffering really deeply. Some in this room right now have been through a terrible catastrophe.
You’ve lost a job.
You’ve lost your health.
You’ve lost someone you love.
You’re in a severe depression.
Maybe there’s someone here who is so deeply depressed you’re not even sure it’s worth it to face another day. You’ve been thinking about ending your life, or you’re so filled with anxiety and fear and dread that just the thought of getting out of bed tomorrow is overwhelming.
It took all of your courage to come here… and I just want to tell you in a world that stigmatizes that so often, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so proud of you that you’re here.
That’s why we’re a community. That’s why we exist.
This is not a place for, “I have everything under control,” healthy, normal people.
No one here is an altogether normal, healthy person.
Everyone here is all messed up. Right?
At least we all could say the person next to us is messed up. Right?
This is a place for real people. No happy masks here. No stigma here. No one is perfect here.
Just a promise that eventually meaning is going to win.
The Psalmist put it this way:
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
I don’t know when your morning is going to come. Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe it will be next week. Maybe it will be Spring. Maybe at the resurrection.
But it’s coming, so you hold on. Suffering can stop happy; it’s powerless over meaning.
Alright, number 3…
3. Meaning comes when I invest in what matters most, relationships with people.
Meaning comes when I invest most deeply in what matters most, which is relationships with people.
What matters more than anything else to God, what matters more than anything else in life, is people.
People matter to God, and they matter to Paul.
I thank my God every time I remember you.
Again, when he was in Philippi… He was filled with all kinds of memories that wouldn’t make me grateful, but they make Paul grateful.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.
Mostly life is about relationships.
No one has unhappy relationships and a happy life.
No one has joy-filled, meaningful relationships and a joyless life.
It’s all about people.
This is so true.
There’s a study in the Journal of Socio-Economics, and they found changes in people’s income… How we live for that! How we die for that!
Changes in people’s income level actually bring very little happiness.
However (again, this is a secular study), an increase in the level of relational involvement in your life — a deepening of connection and relationship — is worth more than $100,000 a year in life satisfaction.
I’ll give you a very simple application for this.
After the service, if you come and give me $80,000 I will be your friend… and you’ll still come out $20,000 ahead.
Now Paul — financially?
Was dirt poor.
Was filthy rich.
This is Paul’s life. This is life in the reality of the kingdom of God with Jesus.
“Every time I remember you, I’m grateful — ‘God, thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Every time I pray for you, it makes me joyful.”
Am I spending as much time building relationships as I’m spending trying to be successful or make money?
When I’m with people, do I actually experience gratitude?
What an amazing thing to be with a human being who God made and God loves!
How many of us, if we were honest, would actually write a letter that sounds quite different than Paul’s letter?
How many of us would write one that goes more like:
“Dear X, I complain to God every time I remember you. In all my prayers, I always pray, ‘God, why can’t you change her? Why can’t you make him different? Why can’t I just have normal, healthy people in my life?’”
A writer by the name of Shaun Aker talked to a tax auditor who was very depressed.
As they were talking about why, the auditor mentioned one day during a break at work he (I’m not making this up) actually made an Excel spreadsheet listing all the mistakes his wife made during the past six weeks.
Now imagine his wife’s (probably now his ex-wife) response when she found out her husband had done a flaw audit on her.
A lot of us may not have a spreadsheet on a computer somewhere, but we have it in our minds. “Man, every mistake you made I know, and that’s what I remember. I complain to God every time I remember.”
Paul writes to the church of Corinth this fabulous phrase, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
It doesn’t rehearse them.
It doesn’t magnify them.
It doesn’t go there.
In fact, Paul does the opposite. A gratitude audit.
Who are you grateful for?
Paul says, “I thank God because of your partnership in the gospel. This is the greatest meaning of all. Up there, the kingdom of God, coming down here on earth to the poor, the lonely, the sinful… and you’re part of it.”
Philippians exists as a letter — one of the great pieces of literature in world history — basically because of gratitude.
It’s basically a thank you letter. That’s what it is.
They had been supporting Paul financially, with their prayers, with their love, in ministry, and he wanted to say thank you.
They’re partners in the gospel, which by the way, is what we are.
Which by the way, I couldn’t hit this point without just pausing to say thank you to our whole church.
We’re in the middle of raising funds for a building. On top of that we’re asking you to support our partner organizations and give to the toy shop.
You saw the mailer we sent out promoting giving to our partners. And to be honest, we didn’t know how that might impact our church or our giving.
Well 2018 just ended. Not only did you give, not only did we receive everything we were hoping to for in 2018, you also gave $250,000 over and above that, and that’s really good news.
I’m so grateful.
Just so you know… that extra money is going toward our new building. We’re hoping to be in our new building sometime in 2020.
I can’t wait to be in a permanent location that will reach more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alright, number 4
4. The happy life is rooted in where you are in your circumstances financially, vocationally or physically; the meaningful life is rooted in where you are spiritually.
Really interesting. At the beginning of this letter, Paul says he is writing…
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi.
In other words, at Philippi geographically… but they’re not buying into that mindset and not buying into that culture.
In Christ Jesus, spiritually.
At Philippi geographically; In Christ Jesus spiritually.
There’s a very interesting relationship between happiness and place.
In our day, people will pay a lot of money, and put a lot of emphasis and lot of our identity is wrapped up in where we live.
So researchers wanted to know — who is happier?
People who live in California or people who live in the Midwest?
Who do you think?
It’s so interesting. They asked subjects in both areas to answer two questions:
How satisfied are you with your overall life?
How satisfied are you with your weather?
Everyone, even the Midwesterners, thought Californians would be happier with their overall life… but they weren’t.
It turns out Midwesterners are just as happy with their overall lives as Californians are.
Now Midwesterners were way unhappier with their weather — unhappier with their summertime weather and way unhappier with their winter weather.
Not just that, they were unhappier than Californians with a bunch of other particular areas.
With their outdoor activities.
They were less happy with the natural beauty of their surroundings, because there isn’t any.
They were less happy with their personal safety.
So why weren’t Midwesterners less happy than Californians overall?
Well, because they’re also dumber than Californians.
If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be living in the Midwest when they could have moved out to California like the rest of us did.
I’m kidding. My family members all live in the midwest… and they’re probably watching online right now.
Hi mom, I know you’re smart and you know happiness isn’t about geography.
All kidding aside, there’s just no place. There’s no circumstance, there’s no external situation (money, health, beauty, not even California) that can bring lasting, internal happiness.
Paul says the location that really matters to you is your spiritual location.
Paul says what you really are is a follower of Jesus Christ and a meaning-filled servant of humanity who God loves… temporarily residing in Philippi.
You’re at Philippi, but you don’t buy into that mindset. You don’t buy into that way of life.
What matters is not that you’re in Philippi (or California or in the Bay Area or in Pleasanton or Chicago). It’s that you are in Christ Jesus.
It’s not where you are; it’s whose you are.
It’s not what you have, but who has you.
And you are in Christ Jesus.
What does that mean?
That means Jesus is it for me.
Jesus is with me.
Jesus is in me.
Jesus is by me.
Jesus is for me no matter what.
Jesus is always working through me.
He’s always standing beside me.
He’s always going before me.
He’s always watching over me.
He has my back.
He’s in my heart.
He’s at my side.
He’s in my corner.
I may be in trouble, in debt, in prison, in suffering, in a hospital bed, but if I’m in Christ Jesus, I am good!
That’s the good news of the gospel.
And Paul says if your spiritual location is in Christ Jesus, your geographical location can be any place on earth, and your ultimate well-being is not at risk. Not at all.
By the way, as a part of this series, we’re actually going to do an experiment to track our awareness of our being in Christ, our awareness of God’s presence in our lives.
It’s going to be interesting… and hopefully fun.
For joy is not a feeling.
Joy is not the same as being in a good mood.
The writers of Scripture actually never say, “Be in a good mood.”
Joy is, as Dallas Willard said, a pervasive sense of well-being.
It is well… and only God can bring that.
That’s why Paul doesn’t just say, “Rejoice.” He says in Philippians 4:4
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
“Rejoice in the Lord…” Rejoice because Jesus our Lord is the great joy bringer.
Jesus said in John 15:11
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
So rejoice… because it’s joy that Jesus lived for. It’s joy that Jesus suffered for.
Let us fix 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
Rejoice because the Master of all has become the Servant of the world.
He humbled himself.
He made himself a slave.
He became obedient to death, even death on a cross, Paul says.
For the God of joy became the man of sorrows so that we sorrowful sinners might yet become children of joy, and when he did, we tried him and beat him and crucified him and killed him on a cross and cut him down and buried him.
And on the third day, God said to our sorry, dark, sinful world, “I will give you something to be happy about,”
And a tomb, the ultimate symbol of death and doom and defeat and despair, became on that third day the happiest place on earth.
That’s our Jesus. That’s who we’re students of… learning about living a life o joy.
Next week I’m going to talk about four ways to make your life miserable. It will be a great weekend to invite your worst enemy.
Actually, I’m going to talk about how not to do that, because we serve a God of joy, and through meaning… through the cross (through death) come resurrection and joy.
Would you pray with me as the band comes to lead us in a closing song?
I don’t know what’s going on in your life.
There may be a lot of difficulty and suffering and sorrow, but weeping lasts for a night. Joy comes in the morning.
God, I pray for those gathered here today… and those listening online.
God, there are some people who are just filled with gratitude. Wonderful things are going on.
Great satisfaction in their work.
Wonderful opportunities lying before them.
God, we don’t want to take that for granted. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Then, God, other people are facing big difficulties.
Loss of health
God, we have one hope in those moments.
Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross and scorned its shame… so God, would you bring joy into every heart here, into every circumstance here, a joy that transcends our circumstances, that death itself cannot defeat?
Right now, God, as kind of a stake in the ground, we proclaim our joy in you.
We offer you our hearts, our worship, our gratitude, our lives, and our eternities, and we do that in the name of the joy-bringer. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.