Liz, over at the Daily Warrior challenged many of us to create goals for ourselves for 2017. As a person who generally refrains from New Year’s resolutions, I had to sit and ponder this one for a while. And, then it hit me…
This year, I am letting go of my expectations for ‘happiness’ in exchange for joy and peace.
We live in a fast-paced society that offers us instant gratification on many levels and the opportunity to chase after the proverbial “happiness” that seems to elude so many. We are often led to believe that our happiness depends on external factors, especially when it comes to people and circumstances.
I would be happy if my bank account was huge, I would be happy if I were prettier, I would be happy if he/she would change, I would be happy if I had a big house, I would be happy if I had a better job, I would be happy if I lost weight, I would be happy if I were married to someone else, I would be happy with a fancier car, etc., etc..
I mean, the sentence itself leaves a lot to be desired when we put contingencies on our happiness. I would be happy if…
If what? What would it take to make you happy right now? What floats your boat and melts your butter? And, what if you don’t lose weight, what if people don’t change, what if the bank account doesn’t grow, and what if you wreck that fancy new car?
Happiness itself is an emotion that ebbs and flows like so many of our emotions do. We experience sadness, frustration, jealousy, anger, fear, anticipation, excitement and so on. Emotions in and of themselves are temporary and the state of mind those emotions bring with them are also temporary.
Our emotions do not define us, they are not our identity, and they are not facts. Emotions are, however, part of our human experience and we are tasked with the challenge of being able to manage them appropriately.
Yesterday, what made me happy at 4 o’clock in the afternoon won’t necessarily be the thing that makes me happy tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.
Our expectation that we can achieve happiness 24/7 by following our ‘hearts’ and doing what ‘feels’ good is not a sound way to live and is the death knell of any relationship or endeavor.
Jeremiah 17:9 gives some insight into the fickle nature of why ‘following our hearts’ and doing what ‘feels good’ is not the wisest way to make our choices:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
There is a toy that my preschooler has a picture of. It came as a fold-out brochure with one of the other toys she got for Christmas. She has been pointing at the picture every single day to let me know how happy that toy would make her. Sure, it would probably make her happy and give her entertainment for an afternoon. But, that toy is not going to be the same desire of her heart a few months from now and it will be especially irrelevant when she is seventeen and has a huge crush on the boy down the street. This is the same child who is convinced that cookies are a suitable breakfast and would make her happy. Yet, as her mother, I know that cookies for breakfast in the long-run is asking for trouble and whatever happiness those cookies could give her today would be so short-lived that the instant gratification of having cookies for breakfast is not worth it. So, I let her throw a fit over not having cookies for breakfast and give her the option of eating what I provide or go hungry. And, I talked to her about chores and good behavior possibly earning her the reward of a new toy, but we will not be getting a new toy just because it will make her happy right now.
Right now, my 10 month-old son would be perfectly happy if I allowed him to roam where he pleased, stick his fingers in electrical outlets, and put everything he comes across into his mouth. He is very unhappy when I thwart his plans for his own safety and protection and he will put on quite a show of lamentations over it, complete with the sad face and crocodile tears.
As a parent, the happiness of my children is not my objective or my end game.
But, how can that be when so many people say all they want is for their children ‘to be happy’?
Sure, I want my children to experience happiness. However, it is more important for them to have a foundation layered in the kind of safety and security that allows peace and contentment to reside long-term, regardless of external factors. My job here isn’t to appease these two small individuals, rather I am to watch out for their best interest, keep them fed, housed, clothed, safe, and teach them. Oh, yes, and to love them mightily.
The things we believe we need to make us happy get so tied into other people, objects, places, or situations that we are inevitably doomed for the big let-down when we depend on these things to ‘make us happy’.
If ‘happiness’ is our goal or relieving ‘unhappiness’ is our motivation, we are probably not likely to act in our own or anyone else’s best interest.
When I married my husband, I was happy to be sure. I made goo-goo eyes at him, swooned like crazy, and felt dizzy and full of butterflies. Those goo-goo eyes eventually changed, the swooning slowed down, and the dizzy butterflies found other things to do and places to go. The happiness drawn from the excitement and anticipation of saying “I do” and being honeymooners eventually gave way to the day-to-day experience of living with a real, live human being with quirks, faults, and flaws. Suddenly, I wasn’t all that happy about his socks showing up everywhere. Some of the choices he was making became infuriating. And, before I knew it, every sound and move this man made seemed to affect me a little too much. It wasn’t until I removed my expectations for happiness and replaced it with the desire to walk in love no matter what that my attitude began to change.
My husband is not responsible for making me happy. My children are not responsible for making me happy. My circumstances are not responsible for making me happy. My happiness is subject to change at any given moment and, if I expect anyone or anything to appease my happiness, I am going to become one very unhappy individual.
I cannot say I am particularly happy changing diapers all day, getting pooped on by small human beings, wrangling the animals, picking up after a grown man, and worrying about the needs of everyone else on a regular basis. I cannot say I am particularly happy about the way my past has played out or the burdens I have had to carry. Right now, it might make me happy to stay in my pajamas in a quiet house and binge-watch a favorite show on Netflix.
But, what about when the show is over?
Happiness is subjective, truly.
I think we tend to seriously confuse happiness, peace, and joy and we can inadvertently hurt ourselves and those around us when we mistakenly believe that ‘happy’ is what we need to go find.
I am the most content and at peace when I know that my husband, children, and animals are safe, their bellies are full, and their needs are met. Even with all of the quirks, faults, and flaws I love my family so deeply that I will take the inconvenience of poopy bottoms, picking up after a grown man, and tending to the animals over my own personal happiness. And, I do not say that as a martyred wife and mother who is just so ‘put out’. I say that as a woman whose heart truly craves these people. Even if I am not always happy with them or what is going on, I experience so much joy just having them in my life that the daily challenges are worth it.
Even God Himself is not as concerned with my happiness as He is the condition I am in to withstand all the trials that have come and will continue to come my way. Because, yes, this life is full of ups, downs, traumas, trials, adversities, and inconveniences that do not make for a very happy mood. As someone who has walked in chronic post-traumatic stress, wrestled with depression, and struggles with anxiety, let me tell you, there is no greater coping skill than learning how to manage emotions and keeping them appropriately placed.
I have experienced a life of being governed by my emotions and external factors and there is no freedom in that. I once believed I would be happy only if…
My husband is going to let me down, my children are going to frustrate me and disappoint me, and I am not always going to be happy with what is going on around me. But, underneath it all, I can still have the kind of joy and peace that comes from knowing Who my source for all I need is.
We are not guaranteed ‘happy’, we are not promised ‘happy’.
We are, however, promised peace in the midst of it all and I am holding onto that.
In the meantime, I am going to love hard, pray harder, forgive much, and put my hope in the Lord where it belongs.