Have you ever wondered what happiness is and how it happens? Would happiness be financial freedom, excellent health, happy relationships, stress-free job (or school) and all those put together? Can happiness be defined as a state where everything is going well for you? Or would that be boredom?
So many of us, especially the young people nowadays, are well-provided for, are doing well health-wise, academic-wise or work-wise, have great families and friends, and yet, they cry, “Life is boring!” So, what is happiness, really? I believe happiness is “everything going well, plus excitement.” I believe without that extra zing called “excitement” life would be either boring or just miserable, even when everything else is going just fine for us. Or maybe the word is “wonder.” That ‘s why people say, “Keep that sense of ‘wonder’ alive. That is what makes life meaningful.” For example, appreciating nature gives us a sense of wonder. Discovering a nest of birdies or watching a mother cat caring for her kittens always makes us stop with awe and “wonder.”
Sometimes that “excitement” or “wonder” factor can even override the negative circumstances in our lives. Have you seen couples who are really “happy” even though they are materially poor, only because they have that “wonder” or “excitement” stemming from being head-over-heels in-love with each other? Have you heard of people who are truly happy and content with their simple lives in a foreign land simply because they had found true freedom after they had fled as refugees from their war-torn or religious-persecuting country? Or people who say life was good and they were doing “just ok” until something (love, career opportunity, free travel) came along and swept them off their feet and life became exciting and “meaningful”? The madly-in-love couple must have known what sheer loneliness was before they found true love and oneness of mind and heart in each other. The liberated refugee must have known what living in constant terror, oppression and persecution was like before coming to a glorious freedom in his new-found home country. The “doing ok” guy must have known what “ok” was until something “more” happened to him! What I’m driving at is, happiness can be relative. Some people who are doing “just fine” feel “happy” until something happens to them and they find out what they are “missing”! Or people who have all things going well for them may not really be happy but bored. They want more than that, a zing, an excitement, a wonder in their lives. For some people who really have it bad – lonely, persecuted, living in constant fear of their lives, being imprisoned, hungry and poor, over-worked, having no hope of a better life, having constant pain in the neck, back or knee, etc. – if things just start turning around for them, they would already be happy. But even for them, when things stay too long “going well,” they too would get bored and find life meaningless. I guess happiness means “having that extra zing, wonder or excitement in your life that breaks the monotony and brings meaning to life”? How do you get that? People say, “Being happy and content is a state of mind. I will be happy today because I have decided to be happy.” Do you believe that? I say, that’s just like saying, “Let’s play pretend!” I think we can decide to be “content” and live it out, but not “happy”!
We need to know sadness to know happiness. We need to know boredom to know excitement. We need to know the meaninglessness of life to know a meaningful life. Happiness is an emotion, it’s ebullient and it’s exciting. But just like any emotion, it comes and it goes.
I believe happiness is something we cannot make. We can work for it, dream it and hope for it but there is no guarantee we would receive it in the end. It is something that only God can create. It takes just the right ingredients, the right circumstances, the right people (if it involves people) and the right time and place, to happen. You are down to your last $10 and a friend takes you out for a steak dinner, out of the blue. Wouldn’t that be happiness? You are alone in a new city looking for a job and you fall sick. You have enough money for the doctor’s fee but not for the expensive antibiotics he prescribes. He finds out you are between jobs and are staying with friends and he gives you the free samples of the antibiotics, enough to cover the whole round he prescribed till you get well. Isn’t that happiness? Who makes those things happen? Just luck? Just coincidence? The wrong end of the stick may be thrown at us so often in life but if we observe close enough, there are some pockets of blessing (others call it “luck”), kindness and good mercies that punctuate our hard days. You go to a strange city and out of the blue you meet an ex-classmate or ex-colleague. Isn’t that exciting? Suddenly the city does not feel so strange and threatening anymore. You shop for a winter coat and you find that the shop has a one-day sale that day, the very day you came, the only day in three months when you could be free from work and house chores, to go out and do some clothes shopping. That’s not God? Or a lady is past her prime, had a series of boyfriends who ended up jilting her for another, one after the other. Finally, she found true love but it turned out the man cannot defy his parents’ wishes for him to marry within his own race and clan. She is heart-broken again. She prays, even fasts in desperation. She tells God, “I need to meet your partner for me before the end of this year.” It is weeks before New Year. She goes home to her home town. She “accidentally” meets an old family friend, about her age, who should have been married ages ago because he was engaged to a fine lady the last time she heard about him. But no, that relationship ended in a break-up and he embarked on his further studies because of the heartbreak. He never married. And so, they found each other both past their prime, both single and knowing each other very well because they grew up together. Within a week, before the New Year rolled in, she found a partner-for-life. This time, he didn’t break her heart; this time, he made up for all the brokenness she went through in those series of bad-ending relationships. Within the following year they were happily-married. They also have the same vocation in life – serving God in a foreign land. Not God?
I’m not very old yet but I’m not very young anymore either. With my half-century of existence here on earth and my moving and living in seven countries and at least as many cities, I say, happiness cannot be conjured, it cannot be assembled with the right ingredients like baking a cake, it cannot be planned, it cannot be designed by man. Happiness is a gift from God and He knows exactly when to dispense it and where and how He’ll make it happen. Happiness is a gift, just as life is a gift. Do you look for life? Did you ask to be born? Maybe it works the same way with happiness. They say God speaks to us everyday. It’s just that we haven’t learned to hear Him. Could it be the same with happiness? Maybe we need to stop looking for happiness but learn to humbly receive it from the One who Gives. If there is a Life-Giver there must be a Happiness-Giver, too. If happiness and life are good things, this Life-Giver must also be the One who brings Good Gifts of Happiness!