An article in the Daily Telegraph the other day laid an interesting proposal before the general public – the ‘Ten Steps to Happiness’.
These steps - giving, relating, exercising, appreciating, trying out, direction, resilience, emotion, acceptance and meaning – are supposedly those things which, if included in your lifestyle, lead to the happiness which so many in our culture lack. So close, I thought, they’re so close, yet so far.
I’m not convinced that doing good things in order to find happiness is the answer. As the guy in the recently popular G.O.S.P.E.L video says – ironically, any commitment to these quite selfless actions is actually an extension of one's own selfishness - things you do so you can get the life you want. I’d not be surprised if those interviewed who were happy in life and did these things didn’t do them to get happiness but because they desired these things first. Is acceptance of yourself attainable just through making a decision to do so? Giving generously is doable, but will there be the sense of wellbeing if it comes as a fee for a feeling? Surely these have got to flow out of something greater if they are to lead to fulfilment?
This is the context in which the Bible places many of them. It argues that the root should be a relationship with God, that that is where we find happiness, joy, and that out of this, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pursue these great things. When you know the truth that God fully accepts you, is willing to carry your burdens and counts you as his own child, you can find freedom from self-degradation (Rom 8:1, Rom 8:15). When the Spirit nurtures within you the fruits of the Spirit, you can find the ability both to enjoy and to wisely control your own emotions (Gal 5:22). Its not all about effort leading to fulfillment, its about rooting yourself in His truth, and pursuing all good and wonderful things out of that, with His strength and help.
If we try and do good things to make ourselves happy I have a feeling that when hard times hit our generosity, our appreciation, our resilience and our emotion will buckle. But if our root is in Christ, and these things flow out of an understanding of his truth, in the power of the Holy Spirit, then there is space to be generous when we have nothing, we can appreciate His beauty when our lives are broken, we still have direction when our career plans fail and our sense of self- worth is redeemable when we feel we've messed up beyond redemption – we have lives built on rock (Matt 7:24-25).
Where is the root of your happiness? At Uni it's really easy to root yourself in a whole lot of good stuff, but the difficulty comes when that stuff proves itself to be transient, untrustworthy or finite. Jesus calls for us to root ourselves in Him, so that when storms come we know our foundations are somewhere solid, and so that those things the Telegraph listed come out of freedom and life rather than being a ten-step path to it. If you’re starting uni this year, you really need to be asking yourself these questions now, because they only get harder to answer later.
If you put these things in your life I bet you'll get happier - they're good things, Godly things. But if you put a relationship with God at the root of your life then I bet you'll see that these things follow, and that joy comes from that root and overflows into giving, relating, exercising, appreciating, trying out, direction, resilience, emotion, acceptance and meaning.