Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Makes You Happy?

According to a new study out of the University of Maryland, certain activities are associated with having a happy life. Dr John Robinson, a professor of sociology, has now published his findings in the journal Social Indicators Research.

The research itself was based upon the answers from 45, 000 Americans, and relied on 35 years of data collected by University of Chicago’s General Social Survey. The findings used primarily 8-10 activities to discover which ones seemingly made some people ‘happier’ than others. Among the things that led to so-called happiness were socializing, reading newspapers, and going to church. Surprisingly, those who watched a great deal of TV tended to be less happy. Dr. Robinson stated, “I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy, but the data shows that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run."

It is interesting that the Bible uses the term ‘happy’ quite sparingly. As a matter of fact, the New King James Version lists it only twice in the New Testament - one of which is in Paul’s own description of himself during his defense before King Agrippa. (Acts 26:1-2) In contrast, the NKJV uses the term ‘joy’ over 60 times in the New Testament alone.

Perhaps these contrasting numbers are because, like the study showed, happiness is more a fleeting product of external factors, although church attendance could be counted as a positive internal influence as well. Joy, on the other hand, is something deeper and concrete. It springs from the inside – from the soul. True joy has the capacity to exist, and flourish, even while happiness is fluctuating with life’s circumstantial winds. An unshakable Biblical joy is not just happiness on steroids - but a form of peace and contentment, not really possible or explainable humanly speaking.

Joy is spoken of in the majority of the New Testament books. And a careful examination reveals that lasting inner joy to be primarily a spiritual commodity.Jesus spoke of the gift of His unique joy in John 15:11. "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” The ‘these things’ are related in the previous verses and include: answered prayer, peace, comfort, security, and power for fruitful Christian service.

The writer of Acts wrote of Christian joy in Acts 13:52. “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

The Apostle Paul used the joy concept repeatedly in his letters to the young churches. To the Roman Christians he wrote, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13) And to the church at Galatia he said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Bible term joy is derived from a Greek word that speaks to an inner cheerfulness, a sense of being well off, or a calm delight – a commodity sought long and hard by mankind since the very outset.

For those still lacking salvation in Christ, that special peace with God and unique inner joy can never be known without coming to Him. But for all that do, Scripture reveals something special and distinct. Because God’s joy is supernatural, it can actually be the byproduct of dealing with the troubles that tend to drag the mere ‘happiness’ of the unbeliever all over the lot. Simply stated, those outside of God’s family find their momentary outlook on life to be chained to their current circumstances - whether they be good or bad.

And for any doubting the positive potential of a miraculous union of inner joy with outward trails, they need to consider the following Holy Spirit inspired words of the Apostles Peter and James.

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1Peter 4:2)

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3)

Why settle for some, external, circumstantial, and momentary happiness when there is a permanent inner joy available in Christ? “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4)

The choice is yours!

Bill Breckenridge

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