People with religious conviction often have dogmatic—and sometimes polarizing—answers for basic questions.
For example, “Does God give us more than we can handle?” or “Did God choose to give me cancer?” These questions can be deeply personal and require carefully considered responses. People who believe in God want to believe certain things are true about Him based on what they’ve been taught or what they’ve experienced, and the stakes in these conversations can feel very high.
Another question with polarizing opinions—”Does God want you to be happy?” Some will say, “Of course!” while others will adamantly argue that God wants us to be holy. Some might even say, “God doesn’t care about your happiness; He only cares about your obedience.”
So which is it?
Defining the Terms
It’s always a good idea to begin with definitions, and “happy,” with regard to this question, is a good place to start.
For years, Christians have argued that “joy” and “happiness” are different things—joy being a deeply-rooted satisfaction in Jesus, and happiness being a superficial response to circumstances. And this may have some truth to it. Is it possible to be happy about superficial things (like shopping or sports)?—yes. Is it good to find joy in Jesus, regardless of life’s circumstances?—absolutely.
But limiting the term “happy” to one isolated definition may not be sufficient. And shying away from the term “happy” simply because it can be applied to things that are not inherently spiritual doesn’t make sense either. Bestselling author Randy Alcorn explains:
“Is there selfish and superficial happiness? Sure. There’s also selfish and superficial love, peace, loyalty, and trust. We shouldn’t throw out Christ-centered happiness with the bathwater of self-centered happiness.”
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus lists 8 different types of people who are blessed:
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
2. Blessed are those who mourn.
3. Blessed are the meek.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
5. Blessed are the merciful.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers.
8. Blessed are the persecuted (for righteousness’ sake).
It should be noted that one widely-accepted definition of “blessed” in the biblical languages is “happy.” Nothing in the Bible indicates that Jesus used the term “happy” for things that didn’t matter and reserved the term “joy” for things that did. He was primarily concerned with the source of the happiness.
Identifying the Source
It’s critical when answering this question to identify the source. That is—”Where do you find your happiness?”
For example, if our happiness is found in things that can rightly be called “sin” (i.e., pornography, pride, or laziness), then in these cases, “But it makes me happy!” doesn’t work, and it would be accurate to say God wants our holiness more than He wants our happiness.
A holy God can’t possibly want us to find our happiness in things that cause us harm or diminish His glory. But if our happiness is rooted in things that are good?—Why wouldn’t He want us to be happy?
In many ways, God calls us to find happiness in Him—
Be glad in the Lord (Psalm 32:11).
Delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).
Serve the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:2).
Do your acts of mercy with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:8).
Rejoice in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
So depending on the definition of “happy,” it’s possible God not only wants us to be happy, but He tells us to be happy.
Finding the Answer
Psalm 37: 3-4: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
In studying the Bible, it’s hard to miss the fact that God cares about feelings. Of course He does! He created them. But it’s difficult, too, to miss the fact that He cares deeply about our obedience. No doubt, He wants more for us than happiness. He wants our submission and ultimate conformity to His character.
So which is it? Does God want us to be obedient or happy? The answer is … yes.
It would appear in Scripture that He wants both for us. And when it comes to happiness vs. joy? In the words of the famous preacher, Charles Spurgeon:
“Those who are ‘beloved of the Lord’ must be the most happy and joyful people to be found anywhere upon the face of the earth!”