A few days ago, mom started writing about contentment/happiness. Sometimes I get annoyed when I hear people talk about the distinction between “contentment” and “happiness”, as if these are two different things. Usually they say something about how contentment is about being satisfied with what you have, as opposed to happiness, which evidently means you only have positive feelings all the time. Well, sure, if you want to define happiness that way then, yes, I can see why you’d make that distinction. That kind of thinking makes happiness kind of “off limits” because we’re never going to live a life devoid of negative experiences. I don’t want happiness to be off limits. I don’t want to feel guilty saying that I am genuinely happy, which I am.
I understand why we have to do this. In our country, happiness has been made the utmost priority. We seek happiness in all things and if we’re no longer happy with something we drop it like a bad habit and move on to the next happy thing. Consequently, happiness is all about chasing the next high. But rather than making happiness off limits, let’s just define it as contentment. Wouldn’t that be alright? Wouldn’t that make happiness more attainable? Wouldn’t that relieve some of our anxiety about not being happy? (Often, we have that anxiety only because life isn’t perfect, so we can’t be happy according to how that word gets used in our culture.)
I know, not all of us are even content. So happiness would still be off the table under that definition. That’s okay too. Even the Big Lebowski recognized that life has its up’s and down’s, strikes and gutters. I’m not trying to convince everyone that we need to be happy right here, right now, this very instant. I’m just trying to get us to reframe how we typically think of happiness.
One of my professors worked on the translation team that created the CEB Bible. Rather than using the word “blessed” in the sermon on the mount, they chose the word “happy”. They didn’t choose the word happy because it meets our culture’s definition. They chose it because it indicates flourishing and contentment in the midst of fortunate circumstances.
3 “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 4 “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. 5 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. 6 “Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. 7 “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. 8 “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. 9 “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Matthew 5:3-9, CEB
The hopeless aren’t “happy” in the sense that they have positive feelings about being hopeless. They’re happy because Jesus is promising that God has a place for them. It’s not the grief that makes the grieving happy, but the fact that God promises an end to grief. And so on and so forth. I guess happiness can even be found in promises.
Do you see how this puts a little bit of a different spin on happiness? Does this change how you view your own life and happiness?