Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Difference Between Happiness & Joy

Because many have given themselves to the pursuit of life's more substantive issues, and in many cases accepted what is considered to be healthy spiritual, moral and philosophical standards of life's issues, it is interesting when philosophical standards and encouragements that do not point to or reinforce objective biblical standards are presented. Worldly philosophical standards often stick out in the crowd. 

Ie: For those of us in Christ, values that are less than Christ centered (worldly values systems) are not  appealing as they lack Christ and biblically centered encouragements.

At least that is my opinion of Essence's March 2011 article "The Happiness Quest". Now, to be clear, Essence is not a Christian publication, neither is it a Christian manual or guide to living for Jesus. So a condemnation of Essence is not the point of my article. However, Essence does deliver advice and certain information designed from a secular and in some cases an Eastern religious perspective, geared toward making one happy. The aim is to provide information that will offer individual self improvement or satisfaction as it pertains to the current condition of life. Personally, when I gather information that is aimed at my quality of life, I seek to align that information up with and compare it to information found within the biblically centered Christian worldview that I espouse. After all, if something is declaring that it will better life, then as Christians we should examine it in light of the truth found or contained within scripture. 

So when I saw the cover, I thought to look and see what essence says makes one joyful and could potentially change your life. I found many things...I'll focus on the "Joy" list of "25 Life-Changing secrets to Getting Happy" on the front cover:

Can Essence's List Of 25 Bring One Happiness?

Certainly it can if temporary happiness is all you want to achieve or maintain. Many parts of the list were good and just good general information. in contrast, much of the list was centered or focused on self satisfaction. In other words there was always a self motivating factor for almost every "secret" that was presented. The list is as follows:
1- Inhale, exhale (relax without worry)
2- Savor the happiness of others ["Join the party of happiness as a way of jump-starting and maintaining your own happiness"~ Based on encouragements from Lama Choyin Rangdrol an African-America teacher of Tibetan Buddhism pg. 136]
3- Turn off the small screen
4- Forget the gym and head for the outdoors
5- Give what you can
6- Retreat
7- Star in your own music video
8- Get yours in bed ~ [According to Duke University having an orgasm 4 times per week can reduce your physiological age by as much as six years, not to mention the immediate benefits of the creation of a chemically induced (oxytocin) euphoric state for a number of hours each time. pg. 137 Question~ can having an orgasm 8 times a week set the clock back 12 years??? How about 12 or even 16 times???]
9- Declare your love
10- Pray ~ [Prayer to a higher power has the effect of resetting your mood according to a 2006 Pew research study. A 2007 University of Wisconsin study showed that individuals who attended "faith" services and established relationships with at least 3 to 5 other members "reported the strongest satisfaction with their lives". pg. 137]
11- Squeeze in your Z's
12- Pack your own personal happiness kit
13- Create thinking space
14- Do only the next necessary thing
15- Pay down your debt
16- Learn to love nature's healing foods
17- Reconnect
18- Believe in silver linings
19- Buy less, do more
20- Go for a healing massage
21- Talk to someone [Have a therapist on call]
22- Forgive [both others and yourself]
23- Practice active gratitude
24- Find work you feel passionate about
25- Choose joy
Now, as I said, this is not a biblically centered encouragement and I don't judge the overall effort or list by the bible. However, since certain parts of Hinduism and Buddhism were presented as practices that could make one happy, I believe that is is fair to examine the encouragements as pertains to Christian moral values. Clearly there is a contrast between Christian vs secular values the differences can't be more pronounced.

Now, aside from the confusing information regarding orgasms and the reversal of physiological age, the list ends with an encouragement to "Choose joy". Obviously, by the end of the list, the writer seems to be aware that there is a difference between Joy and Happiness.

True Joy

Nehemiah 8:9-10~ "9-And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. 10-Then
he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send
portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto
our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

What I find most interesting about the list and other like it, is that it spends a lot of time and energy encouraging people to change their circumstances temporarily but very little time building a foundation on permanence. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a better circumstance and progression in life it is apparent that one can change and improve all the circumstances that one wants in life and yet not be at peace, rest or even achieve joy or success. From a philosophical standpoint, happiness could be associated more with circumstance, material and superficial comforts, whereas joy is associated with deeply rooted and secure life paradigm and worldview. 

For the Christian, true joy begins with the Lord and having a committment to and with HIM through and by HIS word. This is the foundation of the Christian life, ethic and moral value. This is what makes the Christian experience of what it means to be joyful different from what the world or secular society considers to be joyful. This is also what provides a permanence of joy within the Christian life. Experience with Christ makes the difference. The world misses this because it cannot receive him.

Discouragement & Depression

Certainly times will come when the bible believer suffers from simply being down or depressed. However this is another difference in the Christian and those who simply ascribe to secularism. Though down times come and certainly life's depressions happen, we are not without hope that is found within Christ. The stability of the believer is contained within a joy and completion beyond the mere current circumstances of life. Even saints are not immune from thoughts of suicide, but it is in those times that there must be a solid foundation that affirms that at no time that the believer is alone. The salvation of the Lord extends into current circumstances and not simply a future beatific vision of heaven. The strength and provision of the Lord is right here, right now!    

Is: 61: 10-11~"10-I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
11-For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things
that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness
and praise to spring forth before all the nations."

For the Christian, true joy emanates from unity with God through the life changing event of Christ's atoning death on the cross and the power of his resurrection. These are the places that Christians find true joy. As stated, this type of joy brings comfort in the midst of trying times and peace in the middle of confusion. Individual purpose and place is revealed within the Christian worldview. We are here for a reason and God does have a plan. The satisfaction that God will right all wrongs and sustain the weak is yet another benefit of knowing the Lord and trusting in his faithfulness. These are things that can be experienced by every believer. These are lasting values that go beyond the body's ability to perform certain acts or tasks in effort to find a way to find "happiness".

The world has reduced joy to merely biological functions and feelings that produce a sense of satisfaction. However, a position such as that cannot address the lasting, foundational and deeper issues that we face in life.

Happiness is a large church with a booming membership, but joy is a group of believers that allow the Lord to have free reign and leadership committed to the service of God's people. For some happiness is a boyfriend or girlfriend or even an illicit lover, but joy is a God given spouse dedicated to principles of righteousness and holiness.Happiness is a meditation and possibly a car or a new house. Joy is peace of mind and heart and a home filled with unity and lasting love. When the car is broken, joy provides the knowledge that God will make a way out of no way! Happiness is good health, but joy is present even when the Dr. says it's over. How? Because as Christians we know it's not the end, it could be a place to either see a miracle or experience a new reality beyond current comprehension.  We may have many afflictions, but we have a promise of deliverance.

Buying Into The World's View Of Happiness

The problem is that too many of us within the church have been seduced by the world's value system. SOme think that joy and blessing are contained within their material possessions. Too many ministers deliver messages contingent upon themes such as "my season has arrived", "I must get my blessing", "It's time for my breakthrough", "All I have to do is name and claim my deliverance" etc. These are the sentiments that have pervaded Christianity and many biblical circles. All of these sentiments have an individual focus. Unfortunately it is starkly obvious that them that receive the money tell them that are giving that they will be blessed not because they are following the word of God or because God says that it's right, but because of their own need and selfish desire...So they give their way out of their trouble, not give to bring glory to God or blessings to HIS kingdom, but in effort to place themselves in another category whereby they can simply relieve their current circumstances. However there is no possible way that self satisfaction can create true joy. It is always what goes away from self that brings the most joy in life.

Conclusion

We are living in a violent society. According to New York City Mayor Bloomberg there are about 43 deaths per day due to gun violence.(ABC's Good Morning America 2/16/2011)  This is about 15,695 deaths per year.  I've personally ministered to my share of the survivors and family members over the last year or two. We are living in a dangerous time. Wars and rumors of wars, nationalistic battles and natural disasters some even untold.

With varied exception, none of the mere functions outlined by Essence are effective in helping individuals to cope and find joy in the middle of tragic situations. Only Jesus can fulfill the need. Maybe it is time for the true church to live and revert to displaying the true joy found in Jesus as opposed to building its value system on what is destined to crumble and pass away. 

Blessed!   

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