I never will forget the look on his face when I told this man that “Happiness is a choice.” You see, he had come into my office insisting that he wasn’t happy and asking what could he do about it. He wanted to hear me tell him to change his life, and I had just told him to change his mind!
He was confused, to say the least!
But this is true for most of us. We really do believe that what we need to do is change this person or that circumstance and then we’d be happy. Of course, contrary to every time this has been tried and failed, we keep on repeating the same mistaken practice of thinking the grass is greener over there. When the truth is happiness can never depend on circumstances outside me, I have to come to grips with the reality that happiness is a choice.
Look at our lesson in Proverbs 15:7-19:
The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the minds of fools. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness. There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more the hearts of men! A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise. A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken. The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. All the days of the afflicted are evil, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it. A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. The way of a sluggard is overgrown with thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.
Look at the wisdom of Proverbs. Over and over again the author tells me that wisdom is the path to a happy life. A glad heart shows up on a person’s face, but a sorrowful heart breaks the spirit of a man. And a cheerful heart has a “continual feast” but someone who wallows in his affliction is gripped by evil.
The back and forth of Proverbs is meant to offer me a continual choice. This means that we humans are free to choose how we confront everyday life. We are free to allow life to beat us up or we are free to choose a different path. But the point is we are free, UNLESS we forfeit our freedom to our outside circumstance!
Do you see where this leads? It leads to some encouraging AND painful conclusions. First this freedom of ours takes hold of our lives first in the mind and then this freedom descends into the heart. How we exercise our freedom always (and I mean ALWAYS) shows up in our choices, our facial expressions and our behaviors. If we choose to be happy, we will be. If we choose to be sad, we will be. As simplistic as it sounds, think about this for a moment: Right now in your life there are good things happening (There really are. Look around you) and there are bad things happening around you (easier to find those, I bet) and then there are things that fall somewhere in between. In each moment you choose what to focus on, and in that choice lies the power to choose to be happy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not merely suggesting that we all become “positive thinkers.” No, there is something deeper to do. The wisdom of the Faith invites me to a sober perspective that frees me from the traps of delusion. This perspective insists that I do not get tunnel vision on either my problems or my blessings but I soberly look at my life as it is without falling into the traps of either elation or despondency. THAT freedom leads me to a joyful life!
Today, are you happy? I guess a more Orthodox question would be are you joyful? Your Orthodox faith invites you to such a level of maturity that your outward circumstances lose all power over your heart’s peace and it begins by being Orthodox on Purpose!