The secret of happiness

Put down those self-help books and step away from the chocolate! It’s time to look again at what the Bible says about true happiness, suggests Michelle Vandepol

I wonder if, like me, you have missed the marvellous article on ‘How to get happy and stay happy’ at the beginning of the New Testament? It’s there in Matthew chapter 5 – the Beatitudes. I know, I was surprised too! I had always skimmed that chapter – blessed this, blessed that – it sounded lovely, but what I wanted was practical happiness. You know, the elusive kind you read about in most self-help articles that give advice like: “make time for yourself”, “treat yourself to a trip to the spa”, “buy a little trinket”. I was a sucker for those articles until I realised that Jesus taught the secrets of truly, happy people . . .

Stop trying to micromanage your life
Face it, in any given day there are a multitude of little things that are variables. We aren’t quite sure how they are going to play out until they do. What mood is your boss going to be in? Will the traffic home be horrendous? Will you have time during lunch to get through your ‘to do’ list? Will the bill payment come out early? Some days, everything plays out in relative order but on bad days it seems everything’s going wrong. When this happens, take a moment to have a cup of tea and talk to God about the mess you’re in. Think about it, if we trust God with the big stuff like our salvation, why don’t we trust him with the little things? It’s us who are causing the stress, not our lives. God says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). That’s because the poor in spirit are rich in him. They’ve handed everything over to him and are relying on him, not themselves.

Stop living with the guilt of unresolved sin
These are the things we do often and aren’t proud of: little white lies, cussing, cutting corners in our work, backstabbing a friend you’re angry at . . . We say a quick sorry to God and hope those ‘little’ sins don’t bother him too much. But such sins are evidence of our stubborn hearts and we need to repent of them. God says: “Blessed are those who mourn” (verse 4) and he means over sin.

A note on guilt: often we let others dictate to us what we will feel guilt about. That’s an obstacle to happiness too. If you’re bothered by something, ask God to show you in his word if it’s something his Spirit is convicting you of, or if it’s just the by-product of having coffee with Miss Mary Righteous from next door.

Realise you are a small person in a big world
You are not the only one who can get the job done right, fix your sister’s life and feed the world’s hungry. It’s not God’s plan for you to burn yourself out, no matter how noble your cause, neither is it up to you to make others happy, or to prevent them from ever being disappointed. It’s fine to skip making a donation to the latest cause when you’ve just given to something else, to say ‘no’ to a church obligation that will take more time away from your family, to let your answering machine pick up the latest message of your always-needy friend . . . God says: “Blessed are the meek” (verse 5). Superwoman is not meek. The meek, or humble woman, realises that she is a player in life, not its star. The human race, and especially the body of Christ, is supposed to work together, not try to outdo each other. I know you’re thinking, ‘if I don’t do it, no-one will’. But are you sure? The next time you’re tempted to sign up for something else or to do the job by yourself, wait and give the chance to participate to someone else. I promise you, the world will not fall apart without you.

Stop trying so hard to be a good person
This sounds all wrong. Aren’t Christians supposed to be all that they can be? Yes and no. God says: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (verse 6). He wants us to look outside of ourselves for our righteousness, not try to establish our own goodness. The truth is, of ourselves, we’ll always fall short. Sure, we may look like fabulous Christians to each other, but God sees the heart. We cannot change ourselves but, as we seek him, he will change us from the inside out.

Take a moment to lighten another’s burden
When you reach out and help another, it’s hard not to be self-involved and self-pitying. God knows this. He tells us: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (verse 7). It’s where “what goes around, comes around” came from, except that the results are much more immediate. Lightening another’s burden is the ultimate way to demonstrate the love and mercy he first showed us. Though in the scheme of things it may seem small and insignificant, it pleases God when we do good works in his name.

Stop playing the games people play
We all know how exhausting a round of gossip is. Worrying about who’s saying what to whom, and if what you’ve said will come back to you. This is why God says: “Blessed are the pure in heart” (verse 8). He knows that we will only be at peace with a clear conscience. We need to star focusing on inward holiness. This means having our hearts open before God, facing our sinful patterns and praying over them. So, leave the petty comments, backstabbing, idle gossip, over-competitiveness and office politics to the people who don’t yet know God. There’s a lot you can overlook if you put your mind to it. Ask God for help. Your faith-filled walk and calm heart will make another ask ‘why?’ and then you’ll have your witnessing opportunity.

Keep the peace
The world needs more peacemakers and fewer combatants. Do your part to help others see past the little things that prevent us from all getting along. Pray with the stressed-out. Only pass along the nice things people say. Stop gossip in its tracks. Go to the person you heard was talking about you and ask for an explanation. Be a heavenly diplomat. God says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (verse 9).

Stand up for what is right
We need to be less in awe of man and realise that we live constantly in the presence of a holy and almighty God. We are to stand up for what is right, no matter what the consequence. God blesses those who follow him in obedience. God promises those who are his true disciples “the kingdom of heaven” (verse 10). God will help us to walk our path and will give us happiness in it.