One can readily assert that there are many conditions that are needed to be truly happy. Health, good relationships, satisfying work, and purpose are the first that come to mind. But my own experience and professional observation leads me to conclude that there is one requirement that trumps all others. Without this, it is unlikely you’ll ever be truly happy.
I struggled with being happy for a long time. There was a dream in my heart that was unanswered and I found myself sad and anxious a lot of the time. If only God would answer that prayer, I could finally be happy…or so I thought. I actually had it backwards. Until I was willing to follow God’s lead, even if He answered all of my prayers, I would still find myself complaining and falling short of glory. My mindset was all wrong.
That one necessity I learned is decision. We must decide to be happy. You may be thinking one of two things. First, that since you want to be happy that that is a decision, or second, that no one would actually make a decision to be unhappy and so my supposition is ridiculous. To which I reply, you’re wrong…well actually, you’re just not completely right.
To the first point, just wanting to be happy is not actually a decision to be. Deciding to be happy is a mindset that looks for the good in every situation and is determined to find ways to make the best of any circumstance. It’s literally a decision not only to be happy, but a decision not to be unhappy as well.
Think of this…how many times have you said something like “If it rains tomorrow I’m going to be really upset”or “If I don’t get that job I’m going to be miserable” or “If he doesn’t apologize then I’m going to be really mad.” We’ve probably all uttered phrases like that at one time or another. Well, believe it or not, those are decisions. We’ve set the bar for what we want and have made a predetermined decision to be unhappy if our criteria are not met. I know. I did it all the time.
To the second point, you’re right to think that no one really wants to be unhappy. St Thomas Aquinas taught that the human person cannot not want to be happy. All of our efforts are aimed at finding happiness. So, if that’s the case, is it correct to say anyone can make a decision to be unhappy? Well, Aquinas is right and it’s also true that we can decide to be unhappy, as contradictory as that sounds. We are created for happiness but we often sabotage our own happiness by either looking for it wrongly or deciding what will make us happy and deciding to be unhappy if we don’t attain that. Humans are curious and strange creatures.
So why would we sabotage our happiness? Well, sometimes there are secondary gains of being unhappy. We may have learned to get attention that way. Or, we can use it as a way to punish others. Or maybe, it just makes us feel in control and past experiences of trauma create anxiety when we can’t control a situation. Misery that we control is sometimes preferable to happiness that we don’t. Fear of loss can also cause us to avoid happiness. For some, never being happy is preferable to losing it once attained.
In my own life this decision component became apparent when I finally got a clue and starting trusting God with my happiness. Instead of deciding what I believed would make me happy and then trying to convince God and deciding to be unhappy if He disagreed, I simply decided that I had better find happiness in the present moment as that was all I really had. My heart’s desire was to be married. One night after having a great night out with two friends I said to one of them, “Wow. That was really fun. You know, I don’t think I could have had a better time if a guy were there.” It was an epiphany moment. I became grateful for the many blessings I did have and stopped bemoaning what I didn’t. I never stopped praying for my heart’s desire but instead of making it the deal killer for my happiness, I surrendered it more to God and His infinite wisdom and timing.
Imagine if instead of saying something like, “If it rains tomorrow I’m going to be so upset!” we said something like this: “Lord, you know how important tomorrow is for me and how much I would like it to be sunny. If it’s Your will, please let the sun come out but if it’s not, please let it not bother me and let me enjoy the rain.” Or “Lord, you know how hurt I am by what my boyfriend did. Please move his heart to realize and apologize but if He doesn’t, please make clear if this is the right man for me and give me the strength to let go if he’s not.” Imagine how different your life would be if you really actually trusted God and prayed like that? Imagine what a hard time the devil would have provoking you if you were living in God’s will that way?
As we embark on this new year, a year dedicated to God’s infinite Mercy, make a resolution simply to be happy. No conditions. No hoops to jump through. Ask God for the grace of gratitude, for the ability to see the silver lining in every cloud. Commit to spiritual reading that will bolster your faith in God and in His Mercy. Believe that He has a plan and is weaving a beautiful tapestry with whatever dark threads you may seem to get tangled in. And watch what you say…even passing remarks can be decisions that can unravel your peace. Stand strong in the Lord so the devil won’t gain a foothold. Remember, Jesus came that you may have life and have it to the full. Decide to believe that and to trust that no matter what the situation, He is there in the midst of it working His plan for your good…and happiness will surely follow.
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