Skip to main content
painted stones

Designed for Happiness

Happiness begins and ends in Jesus Christ. That’s it. Full stop. Surely it can’t be as simple as that? We all have friends and family who will encourage us to think something quite different. The argument is often that happiness can only truly be found in the arms of another person, in a sexual union of some sort. We hear voices saying that having Jesus is all well and good, but in this life, you can’t just rely on Him. You need something or someone else that is more tangible and immediate. Someone, or something that will give you that dopamine rush of excitement, that helps you forget your troubles and, even if it is just for a short while, gives a sense of being OK, normal and feeling loved. 

We have been designed to be happy God's way

I don’t want to be trite. I acknowledge that being human in our world means experiencing sin and sinfulness in all its diverse shapes and sizes. This pervasiveness of sin influences our minds far more than you and I fully grasp. We find ourselves drawn to false ways of thinking that promise happiness. Brothers and sisters, it may often feel tough and counter-cultural, but I want to argue for the better way, the way of happiness in Jesus Christ. It is a way that is healthier for mind and body and prepares us for heaven. 

My argument in this brief article will begin with the reality that we have been designed to be happy God’s way. Secondly, and drawing on the work of Andrew Fellows in his excellent book “Smuggling Jesus Back into the Church” (IVP, 2022), I will consider the influences that encourage us to believe less about Jesus as our source of happiness. Finally, I want to encourage us to conform our thinking Christ-wards rather than to the world.

Designer happiness

The Bible tells us that God is happy. He is full of joy. It’s in His very nature to be so. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God experienced happiness as he made the world and us. He saw it was good (e.g. Genesis 1:4,10,12). His creation brought joy to His heart. It still does. He is the unchanging joyful God (e.g. 1 Kings 10:9, Matthew 25:21, John 17:3, Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Timothy 1:11). Eternity for the Christian will be enjoyed in the presence of a joyful God (e.g. 1 Chronicles 16:27, Psalm 16:11, Romans 14:17). We are made in His image, and so we have in our DNA a desire for lasting happiness that can only be met in one person - this person is Jesus (e.g. John 15: 9-11, Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24, James 3:9).

Thinking happy

I grew up with very difficult emotions. I realise now that what I experienced were severe attacks of anxiety. As a child, I found different ways of what we might now call ‘acting out’ in order to soothe my anxious feelings. As I grew older, these became sexualised and I found that my feelings could temporarily be calmed by sexual behaviour and habits. These patterns became entrenched. My thinking was focussed on how I might hide these behaviours from others. Now I realise that my thinking was the source of my anxiety. I had wrongly assumed that my feelings would drive my thinking. Does this make sense? And I now see that it is really the other way around. I have come, very slowly, to realise that what I think and believe triggers my feelings, including feelings of happiness. Feelings do not just come out of thin air, nor do they simply resolve and go away. Paul hits the nail on the head when he says in Romans that we need to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). It is in renewing our minds that our whole selves will be transformed. What will this transformed self look like? We will think and look more like Jesus. In doing so we will also experience the happiness of Jesus. Speaking of Jesus, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says of Him:
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” - Hebrews 1:9

As we follow Jesus in loving good and turning away from sin, so the oil of gladness will overflow in our lives.
Therefore, if you or I want to be happy, we need to stick close to Jesus, to steadily become more like Him in the joy we feel. Jesus teaches in John 15:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”- John 15:9-11

Distracted from happiness

When our thinking is distracted from considering Christ as our joy, churches and individuals may be tempted to think that happiness lies elsewhere. This, in a nutshell, is Andrew Fellows’ argument. I’m using some of his insights as the basis for my own reflections on how happiness goes wrong. 

Firstly, we think of ourselves first and foremost. We assume that we are at the centre of our world - what Fellows calls egoism. Our faith in Christ is essentially a self-improvement programme. We think that the more we do the ‘right’ things, the more we will find satisfaction in life and so happiness and positivity will be our daily experience. Once we have achieved our full potential, we will be happy. This is a big lie. We are tempted to replace trusting God with our ego. Far from joy or happiness, this is a way of thinking that leads to joylessness. We can never deliver to ourselves that which we are spiritually lacking. Nothing we try is ever enough.

A second lie is what Fellows terms naturalism. We are tempted to believe that the only real things are those we can see and touch. In effect we lose sight of God, who is spirit. Our thinking focuses on how we can make the most of the material world. We believe that somehow, we will find happiness from the world. This is a distraction from Jesus and He gets excluded from our thinking. Ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves, we are left feeling hollow. The joy of a wonderful sunset can never eclipse the joy of meeting the Creator who made that sunset for our pleasure. 

Thirdly is the lie of hedonism. This is the idea that the best life, the happiest life we can lead, is to have our senses gratified. The end result is a craving for more and more sensations from what we can see and touch. We seek out sex from whomever and whenever, we seek love from men and women, and we crave the next dopamine high to flood our minds with warm fuzzy feelings. It does not matter where the buzz comes from because here is all we have and we deserve to be made happy. Does this sound familiar? A friend of mine recently turned his back on Christ. The reason he gave (albeit dressed up with more words) is that sex with men delivers happiness where Christ does not. Does that shock you? My guess is that most of us know people who have said and done something similar. In a hedonistic mindset, feelings are king/queen and everything else is to be subjugated to them.

Finally, Fellows talks of politicism, the quest for justice and meaningful change in society as a route to life satisfaction. I feel happiness in my healthcare work when I think I have made a difference for people. Activism can offer a sense of happiness and joy. However, when we see this as our primary role in the world, and the source of our greatest joy, we quickly lose sight of Jesus. We become busy, distracted and ultimately disillusioned. 

Walking back to happiness

How do we do this? We come back to Jesus. We engage in the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, listening to God speak through His word and joining with God’s holy people in the local church. We repent of sin and we seek to obey. As the great old hymn says: 
“Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

As you reflect on this article, maybe you can take some time out to think about your thinking! Does that sound odd? It’s called reflexivity and is the practice of stepping back from thoughts, feelings and habits and asking questions. How come I think this way? How do these thoughts serve me in my walk with Jesus? What purpose has this habit had in my life? What fresh, more Christ-like ways of thinking can I adopt? What support do I need to change my thinking? Building reflection into your routines can help you stay alert to the many temptations to think wrongly. 

As Paul said in the letter to the Philippians:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things” - Philippians 4:8

He is pointing us to Jesus. Happiness begins and ends in Jesus Christ!

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Spring 2024 edition of Ascend