My joy is smarter than your happy

Since the weather yesterday was anything but hospitable to outside activities, our Netflix account got quite a workout. If you have Netflix you understand how wonderful it can be and you also know just how old it can get after awhile. It's not that there aren't enough movies and TV shows to choose from - it's more a matter of quality vs. quantity. So last night as we hunkered down to find something new to watch, I scanned through the listings of documentaries and stumbled across one that I found intriguing.

The movie title was simple enough: Happy. Combining scientific and real-life stories, this movie attempts to chronicle what it is that makes people truly happy. Not surprisingly, money and success were not found to be huge indicators of happiness. As the film progressed, a laundry list of reasons for happiness were articulated from a variety of different perspectives: flow and rhythm of life, quality relationships, being involved in activities that contribute to the common good, and being satisfied with what you have along with a simple lifestyle were the recurrent themes.

Curiously, the role of religion and spirituality was inconclusive when it comes to happiness. In fact, eastern religious traditions such as meditation were credited with leading to happiness while adherence to doctrines and principles, which is common to evangelical Christianity, were purported to have the opposite effect.

As I watched the documentary, I was moved by many of the men and women in the film. Those who appeared the happiest were those who by the world's standards had the least amount of possessions. Despite their lack of wealth, they all held one powerful train in common - a strong sense of community. Whether it was in a tight knit family or close proximity with their neighbors, those who were presented as happiest lived intentional lives with each other. A glaring opponent to happiness was isolation and busyness. Those who shared life together were the happiest.

After the movie came to an end, I noted that much of the emphasis on community and loving your neighbor was nothing new or even novel. It was if the filmmakers had taken many of the teachings of Jesus and woven them into the fabric of this film. Even though the film was nonspiritual in it's approach, the theme of happiness could not be divorced from being content with what you have and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Happy is an emotion and like all emotions it can easily fade. Being happy is typically determined by circumstances in life. If you take away someone's money, family, friends, or comfort, happiness tends to leave with them. This part of the movie was true - those who were happiest had worked to surround themselves with people and circumstances that they hoped would keep them happy. But what happens when those things are gone?

Jesus never told us that He came to make us happy. In John 15:11 He tells us that His goal for us is joy to the full. Joy is different than happiness. While being happy is driven by circumstances, joy reflects a heart contentment that is dependent upon not what we can do for ourselves but rather what God has done for us in Christ. Our joy is in the Lord and because of that we should be happy more than we usually are (Note: I've found Christians to often be the most sour and skeptical bunch in the lot).

Joy remains even in the midst of difficult times. Because true joy is found in the Lord, circumstances such as the loss of a job, a diagnosis of cancer, or a terrible tragedy cannot erase or even limit the contentment and peace that we find in Christ. Sure, happiness will often be fleeting in those situations but our joy remains constant and true. Joy is so crucial to the Christian life that is even listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. And joy is not something that we can manufacture or turn of like a light switch. If you are in Christ then His joy is in you.

While joy is given to us through Christ, we must work to remove from our path obstacles that limit the benefits of joy in our lives. Cultivating relationships with other believers, actually following the teachings of Jesus that lead us to put others first, and seeking the face of Christ at all times will increase our joy in Him. This isn't artificial or step-by-step Christianity. Joy comes when we realize our desperate need for Jesus and then receiving His gift of grace which brings to us pure and perfect joy in Christ.

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