If I Had To Choose, I’d Rather Not Be Happy

Having spent my third life (not reincarnated) in the field of Counseling Psychology, my interest in the relationship between Christianity and the world of counseling has always been, well, of interest.  Since the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and wholly complete for an authentic life as God intended, my contention has been that anything worthwhile found in the field of therapy will have its origin somewhere in the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16,17).

“Talk Therapy” in its various forms, is probably the most common type of intervention practiced by psychotherapists.  The dynamics of this approach draw on a multiplicity of emotional factors that can produce benefits.  Is this anything new?  By no means.  The Bible gives direction for successful “talk therapy” that does not gloss over deep problems with just a “feel good” solution, but provides for a lasting permanent fix.

There are a variety of sayings from, “getting things off your chest,” to “confession is good for soul,” that testifies to the liberating act of cleansing ones conscience.  This can be the benefit of talk therapy.  However, the Bible has a better solution.  We read in James 5:16, to “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Included in these prayers will be the prayer to God for forgiveness, which will lift the burden and bring healing.  The burden of guilt can cause one to become ill, both mentally and physically.  Confession to each other (talk only) can bring some relief, but only God’s forgiveness can bring true healing.

In a related area, there has been a long time discussion about the Biblical distinction between “happy,” and “joy.”  Most Christians would agree that happy is a condition that can be manipulated usually by circumstances of life, whereas joy, Biblically, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and should not be subject to external conditions.  Usually when human needs are met and there is no pending crisis, most people will say they are happy.  In fact Ecc. 7:14 states that, “When times are good be happy…” A recent study to be published later this year in the “Journal of Positive Psychology” addresses the issue of happiness.

The study sought to distinguish similarities and/or differences between a “happy life” as compared to a “meaningful life.”  As with all questionnaire studies, questions were asked that would probe a multitude of life situations and circumstances that may or may not contribute to a happy or meaningful life.  While there were some overlapping factors, the study found that being happy and having a meaningful life were two very different states of being.  The important difference is powerfully presented in the million-seller book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor.

If man has meaning for his life beyond the surface of everyday human needs he is able to endure the most devastating and seemingly impossible conditions and survive.  That was Frankl’s explanation for those who overcame the death camps.  There were no happy days, either give up, or find meaning that transcended the temporal.

Quoting from the study, “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”  The conclusion is that happy people are takers, while those with meaningful lives are givers.  Now, does that really sink in?  The “pursuit of happiness,” that is, making “me” happy, is to pursue all means to selfish ends.  We all know that those pursuits are temporary and never seem to be as fulfilling as the promise.  On the other hand, the “pursuit of meaning” is “you” oriented and according to the Bible is eternal, and maximally fulfilling.  The study further states, “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.”  On the surface that seems startling.

Now, is this a surprising new find of human behavior discovered by psychologists?  Of course not.  While the teaching of giving and self sacrifice is taught throughout the Bible, it cannot be stated more simply than in Acts 20:35b where Paul recounts,  “remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  What happens when we leave the world of the happy self and enter into a world of meaning that transcends selfish motives?  I know a few people like that, and they are all Christians.  Should it be the norm for all Christians to live so close to Christ that personal needs are not nearly as important as others’ needs, and thus, coming from our hearts and not out of compulsion, we place them first?  But, don’t we need to take care of ourselves first?  Well, I guess so, if we want to be happy.

As the Bible teaches, when times are good, be happy.   As Christians our lives are already filled with meaning, but to have the full meaningful life Christ meant us to have involves more.  I confess that one of my struggles has been in guarding my time jealously, instead of giving it away selflessly.  After all, apart from money, which is the easiest to give, time is our most precious commodity.  I am glad I don’t have to make the choice between just being happy or having a meaningful life, I just need to work on the last one; my heart wants to.  So, I’ll sing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and give more time away.








  1. Rachael MacPhee says:

    Love it! Thank you Grandad 🙂

  2. Thank you Rachael, I love your big heart!

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