Happiness, Joy, and Seeking God

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! 
May those who love your salvation say evermore,“God is great!” 
— Psalm 70:4

In the spring of 2018, Yale University offered a class on the Psychology of the Good Life. It became the most popular class in Yale’s history. Against a backdrop of high pressure where levels of depression, anxiety and stress reach dangerous levels, this unprecedented student response indicated a deep hunger to find answers on how to be happy in daily life. The course pointed to research that acquiring more stuff, more money, the right job, the perfect body, true love and good grades are all myths in boosting true happiness. It was recognized that most of the things we think make us happy don’t, because our intuitions lead us astray!

In the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, a wise and very wealthy King Solomon wrote about his pursuit of the multitude of things and accolades that he had obtained, which left him feeling hollow. He concludes with a warning to remember God as the primary point of reference, without whom the pursuit of happiness and the good life becomes meaningless.

Our meditation from Psalm 70 is written by David, King Solomon’s father. It is an SOS prayer to God from a pit of despair; a place where one has every reason not to be happy or joyful. Hence his words in verse 4, “Let those who seek God rejoice” is startling. At the end of his tether, unable to resort to self-help strategies, he declares that seeking God is positioning himself to be in a place of joy or happiness. The reality of his dire situation is replaced by addressing the saving power, the magnitude and greatness of God. He says in verse 5, “God is great’”or in some translations, “let God be magnified.” It’s not that God can be magnified or made bigger than He already is, but David is improving his vision and understanding of God’s higher perspective and God’s final authority over his situation. He recognizes that not only is God in control but that in seeking Him, joy is activated. This is the miracle afforded to those who look to God from their joy-draining places. Psalm 16:11 says, “in your (God’s) presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The self-generated practices of happiness are not entirely unhelpful to one’s well-being, but those disciplines in themselves will not be enough to take us through the landscape of wilderness experiences. David brought his honest SOS prayer to God. He addresses God in his joyless situation. He processes with God his frustrations and his fears. He calls to God to deal with those who drain him of joy. David in the Psalm recognizes his poor and needy condition before God. In other words, he is admitting his own paucity of resources in dealing with his joyless situation.

He knows by his own life experiences so far that seeking God in dark situations was not his only option but his best one. He recognizes God is his Savior and the Source of his well-being, no matter what the status quo. He declares the greatness of God over his situation and in the midst of it.

Experiencing radical joy or happiness is not a self-manufactured, shallow or temporal emotion. It is based on hoping in the promises and character of God. Seeking God’s presence is key to finding authentic joy and happiness. 

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. 
—C.S. Lewis

God, I am sorry for pursuing happiness and joy that doesn’t lead to the good life that You wired me to have. 
God, I am so desperate for You to act in my joy-draining situation (name the situation).
I acknowledge that I don’t have the answers.
I am sorry for not turning to You and talking to You about it.
I recognize You are over and above my situation and able to help.
I will seek after You because in Your presence, no matter what, I can experience true joy.

Chitra L Kovoor
Ministry Fellow at Yale University (Christian Union Lux)

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