I sometimes wonder if we really want to be happy. Well, maybe I mean unconditionally happy. We are ready to be happy when we have this and that and the other thing. In other words, we put conditions on our happiness.
Perhaps nothing exposes our conditional happiness more than when people around us are getting the things in which we put our happiness. For instance, your coworker gets the promotion that you applied for and have been dreaming about for months. You watch someone doing the same job you do for a different company advancing at a pace that is about to out-lap you. And don’t get me started on what happens inside you when your friend finds the love of his or her life before you (kidding! … sort of). The successes of others shed light on all the ways we can be picky when it comes to being happy. See, throughout life we have been taught to place our happiness in certain conditions: prosperity and not poverty; success and not failure; advancement and not stagnation. We literally cannot conceive of being happy without the right conditions.
I find Paul’s dying words to the church at Philippi so counter-cultural both to my heart and for the world in which we find ourselves. Listen to what he says about happiness:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:10-13)
Did you hear that? “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” In every situation?! Really?! This begs the question, what is this secret Paul learned?
I believe that it’s the secret of contentment — to be happy without conditions. Paul knew that we are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This changed his relationship with the places and things around him. The things around him were no longer conditions of his happiness. He didn’t need career success. He was just as happy when he was beaten or shipwrecked. His life conditions and surroundings were no longer the source of his happiness. Rather they were the raw material he used to enjoy God and give Him glory. His attachment to God was stronger than his attachment to his conditions for happiness. And this changed everything about how he approached life.
This begs the question, what is your strongest attachment: your self-made conditions for happiness, or your desire to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Your answer to this question determines everything. If your focus is conditional happiness, think about how this drives your relationship decisions, your career decisions, and your life decisions. But if your focus is on how your current situation can give God glory while you enjoy His presence, how does this free you from circumstances and conditions? How can this empower you to find Life in the midst of life—no matter what is thrown at you?
If you really want to be happy — I mean unconditionally happy — you have to learn contentment. You have to let the conditions of your happiness go. Every circumstance, every interaction, every event—no matter how hard—is filled with the potential to enjoy God and give Him glory. Once you really get this truth, you are free to be content … whatever the circumstances. To me, this sounds a lot better than my old approach to conditional happiness. So why don’t you give this new approach a try today?