I recently listened to a brief, but informative talk on the subject of happiness. The speaker commented on how we have happy experiences versus how we remember happy experiences. For instance, he tells the story of one gentleman who recounted how he absolutely enjoyed listening to a an exquisite piece of music for twenty minutes, but then felt the experience was completely ruined in the last second by a horrible sound. Now the question is, was not the man happy for twenty minutes, or was the twenty minutes of happiness totally wrecked by one sour note? The speaker commented on how the man had a happy experience, but what was ruined was the memory of the experience.
The experience of happiness in contrast to the memory of happiness prompted me to think about my own memories. For example, I had wonderful experiences living in Vermont, but my memories of Vermont have the taint of personal sadness. I confess that I often choose to forget the happy experiences that I unquestionably enjoyed, and remember my experience in Vermont as a sad one. However, the amount of happy experiences outnumbers the sad ones. Like the proverbial, “fly in the ointment,” I rightly or wrongly choose to focus more on the “fly” (i.e., the sad moments) over the abundance of ointment (i.e., happy experiences).
In contrast to myself, the Apostle Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:12-13). Is contentment equal to happiness? Can you be content, but not happy? I would also like to ask the Apostle, “Paul, would you not prefer being happy living in plenty over being happy and in want?” Would Paul consider my question legitimate, or would he say, “Terry, you are missing the point, or rather the person—Jesus Christ.” The question of happiness is not an issue of either/or (either in plenty or in want), but rather, the issue is whether you know the “secret” of happiness: A life with Jesus.
In addition, Paul further reveals the secret of happiness when he says to the Philippians, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:7-8). Paul would have described happy moments in his previous life without Jesus, but when he comes to know Jesus, he completely alters his memories of happiness. How we remember seems to depend on how we know Jesus, and not just on how many experiences of happiness or sadness we may experience in life.
I think I might have a problem. My problem is I may not know the secret of happiness as well as I thought I did. If you ask me, “Do you know Jesus?” I would answer unequivocally, “Yes, I know Jesus!” Yet, if you ask me, “Are you happy?” I would answer . . . ? Well, I am not confident how I would answer. Much of my response probably depends on the day and time you were to ask me. Some moments, I am happy, and other moments I am sad. Paul says he “can do everything through [Jesus] who gives [him] strength.” Yet, I would say, “But Paul, surely it takes more strength to be happy in hard times than it does in easy times!” I think Paul would say, “Terry, what did I say was the secret to happiness? Did I say it rests on your strength? Why are you asking about whether or not you will need more strength? I said, ‘You can do everything through Jesus who gives you strength.”
I think I might have a problem. My problem is a lack of faith and trust in the secret—Jesus Christ. I know the secret is Jesus Christ, but I seem to struggle in keeping the secret. I forget Jesus too quickly in both easy times and hard times. In easy times, I tend not to seek Jesus in prayer, and in hard times, I tend to focus on my problems and not the person of Jesus. What about yourself, dear brother and sister? Are you happy? Do you just know the secret to happiness, or are you keeping the secret of happiness?