The Greeks called the island of Cyprus the happy isle. They believed that because of its geographical location, perfect climate and fertile soil, anyone who lived on Cyprus had it made in the shade. They had a word for the kind of happiness experienced there: makarios, which means self-contained happiness. They believed that everything you needed to be happy was right there on the island.
Now, we can’t all move to Cyprus, but I do think it is still possible for us to experience makarios. True happiness is independent of our circumstances; it is self-contained. Regardless of what is happening internally or externally, I believe it is possible to be a truly happy person, a genuinely blessed person.
However, the idea of self-contained happiness stands in sharp contrast to our culture’s version of happiness. The happiness defined by our culture basically depends on good things happening. If things are going reasonably well, then we are happy. If things are not going so well, then we are not happy.
Some people think that if they were very wealthy, then they would be happy. I am not suggesting that you can’t be wealthy and be a happy person, because you can be. But sometimes the things people wish for actually could be more of a curse than a blessing.
Consider the story of Juan Rodriguez, a New York parking-lot attendant who won $149 million in the lottery two days after filing for bankruptcy. His big win seemed only to bring him a whole lot of trouble. In addition to being besieged by friends and relatives who were seeking handouts, his wife, Iris, filed for divorce 10 days after his win and demanded half the jackpot. Relatives say he was much happier when he was bankrupt. His story is proof there are two sources of unhappiness in life: not getting what you want and getting it.
There are some things money can buy, and there are other things it can’t buy. Money can buy you a bed, but it can’t buy you a good night’s sleep. It can buy you books, but it can’t buy you brains. It can buy you a house, but it can’t buy you a home. It can buy you medicine, but it cannot buy you health. Money can buy you amusement, but it cannot buy you happiness. And in the words of Paul, John, George and Ringo, money can’t buy you love.
A lot of research has been done regarding how we can be truly happy people, and a lot of polls have been taken as well. Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Research Center have found that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being very happy than the least religiously committed people.
So religious or spiritual people tend to be happier people. But I would take it a step further and add that godly people are happy people. According to the Bible, if we seek to know God and discover his plan for our lives, we will find the happiness that has eluded us for so long. In other words, happiness does not come from seeking it, but from seeking him, because “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15 NKJV). God built us to turn to him and find our fulfillment, our contentment and our happiness in a relationship with him.
C. S. Lewis put it this way: “God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.” So the idea is to seek God, and happiness will follow.
That is the great thing that we need to know: God wants us to be happy. But here is the twist: God’s definition of happiness may be a little bit different than ours. He wants us to know this state of being, but at the same time, he might look at it a little differently than we do. God reveals his definition of happiness in the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with The Beatitudes. You could call them the “be happy attitudes,” because the word “blessed” as used by Jesus is interchangeable with “happy.”
However, “blessed” is a word that has been hijacked by our culture. If things are going well and the bills are paid and the health is reasonably good and there are no conflicts at home, someone might say they are blessed. And indeed they are. But the nonbeliever has no idea what a real blessing is, because only a child of God truly knows what it is to be blessed.
The biblical definition of blessedness, or happiness, is much different than that of our culture. Modern beatitudes would sound something like this:
Blessed are the beautiful, for they shall be admired.
Blessed are the wealthy, for they have it all.
Blessed are the popular, for they shall be loved.
Blessed are the famous, for they shall be followed on Twitter.
But Jesus began his beatitudes with a bombshell: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NIV). Some have falsely interpreted this verse to say, “Blessed are the poor.” But that is not what Jesus said. The word “poor” Jesus used is speaking of a person who is destitute and completely dependent upon others for help – but not financially. It has nothing to do with your bank account. Jesus was speaking of those who see themselves as they really are before God: lost, hopeless and helpless. Because apart from Jesus Christ, everyone is poor in spirit, regardless of their education, wealth, accomplishments or even religious knowledge. To be poor in spirit means to acknowledge your spiritual bankruptcy, to acknowledge that you are in need of God.
If you want to be happy, you have to see yourself as you are, you have to be sorry for it, and you have to want change in your life. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “The strength and the happiness of a man consists in finding out the way in which God is going, and going in that way, too.” Which way are you going today?