Amongst all the doom and gloom that perpetually occupies our news headlines, it would seem that happiness is also getting a look in. There has been a lot of talk about Ken Dodd, the comedian who sadly passed away this week. Along with his famously long shows packed with relentless one-liners and tickle-sticks, he was famous for his songs, being one of the bestselling artists of the 60s (Really, he was the only artist other than the Beatles in the five top selling singles of the decade!) One of his better known songs was Happiness which opens with the lines, ‘Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I posses / I thank the Lord I’ve been blessed / With more than my share of happiness.’
The week has also seen Finland hitting the news as taking over from neighbouring Norway as the happiest country. This report uses a single question to measure happiness, ‘Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?’ In case you’re interested, the UK is nineteenth, one behind the USA, with Scandinavian countries regularly populating the top and war-torn or sub-Saharan countries occupying the bottom.
But what makes us feel happy? Obviously having our basic needs met is part of it, being fed, sheltered and having company. But beyond that? Interestingly, the answer differs from place to place. Research indicates that happiness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the West, happiness is generally defined as personal feelings of pleasure. East Asian countries, however, define happiness in terms of social harmony, whilst in some parts of Africa and India it is more about shared experiences and family.
The Bible talks not so much about happiness but contentment. Rather than being an emotion that comes and goes like feelings of personal pleasure, contentment is the base line or level around which those fluctuations operate – if you’re content you’re not always happy, but you’re generally happy more often because of that deep-seated satisfaction. Such contentment doesn’t come from wealth, consumption or pleasure, but from the security of knowing that we are loved by our Heavenly Father and are secure in him. As Paul wrote to the Philippians having earlier reflected on the wonder of knowing Jesus,
‘I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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.’ (Phil 4:10-13)
Want to be ‘happy’ regardless of what life throws at you? Base your life not on things that come and go, but on God and his Son who gave his life that we might become children of God. Unlike the economy, the weather or your favourite football team, he will never let you down.
Church Newsletter Article, 18.03.18