Do You Choose Happiness?

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Do You Choose Happiness?

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I grew up near the world's largest American bison (buffalo) herd in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I've seen that herd in Custer State Park, but believe me, that park is no skateboard park. Buffalo bulls can be almost as cantankerous as the cows with calves. They hang out in fields of buffalo grass, not concrete or asphalt, and they leave massive hoof prints in the sand and dirt. There's no skateboarding or roller-skating there.

But enough about buffalo, because... you can be happy, if you have a mind to.

Let's consider these basic points: What true happiness is not, what true happiness is and how we can avoid misery and build the habit of happiness.

What happiness is not

Did you know that Americans consider the pursuit of happiness to be a basic human right? That is stated in one of mankind's most famous and influential documents, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, written in 1776: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Unfortunately, many Americans and other people misread the Declaration and consider it their right to be happy, when in fact it reads, "the Pursuit of Happiness." The U.S. founding fathers understood the biblical principle that happiness must be pursued by personally choosing the right thoughts, right words and right actions at the right time. In short, our happiness depends on us.

Not everybody believes this. Some mistakenly think that others determine their happiness. This is called determinism and it comes in several flavors.

Genetic determinism blames our ancestry (like grandparents) for our unhappiness (for example, a hot temper and the misery it spreads).

Psychological determinism blames our parents for our lack of happiness because they failed to praise us enough, or whatever.

Environmental determinism blames someone or something in our surroundings, like friends, enemies, teachers, bosses, telemarketers, the economic situation, the nation's policies, our broken Palm Pilot, etc.

Determinists are wrong. Happy genes might make it easier for us to be happy, but tempers need to be controlled and our energy focused productively. A great dad and mom are wonderful, but derelict parents are just an obstacle to rise above. All the folks and things we have to deal with every day only increase or decrease the challenge of the pursuit.

Happiness doesn't come from the acquisition of money or things. Jesus Christ once said: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15).

Lots of young people think promiscuous sex will make them happy. They don't use the word "promiscuous," of course, because they have sex for "love" or "fun." But does it make them happy? Does testing positive for herpes, the HIV virus or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) make people happy? Does dealing with a broken heart because a selfish boyfriend or girlfriend used you and trashed you make you happy? Does waking up half-stoned and hung over in somebody else's bed make you happy?

Others chase happiness with drugs and booze. You're young, you're bright—think about it. Does waking up on the dorm floor in a dazed hangover with your face glued down by your own foul-smelling vomit make you happy? Does coming to from a drunken stupor and not having a clue what you did make you happy?

"No," they say, "it makes me happy when I'm drunk. Everybody likes me and thinks I'm attractive when I'm high or have too much to drink. That's why it's called happy hour!" Get a life. You're not happy.

Will you learn the meaning of life when you're stoned or out of your mind on drugs or alcohol? No way.

The ancient professor of wisdom from the 50s (the 950s B.C., that is) was a much better teacher. "Keep your heart [mind, thinking ability and feelings] with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life [including true happiness]" (Proverbs 4:23).

And what is true happiness?

Happiness is one of the most elusive butterflies ever pursued. The fact is, happy people know that they are happy and that happiness is learned. It is a state of mind and peace of mind.

The English surname Lovejoy fascinates me. It comes from the Bible and is a combination of the first two of a list of the qualities defining the divine character, also called the "fruit of the Spirit." Love is the most important quality, so much so that the Bible says, "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). But isn't it great that God put joy next on the list?

Joy is true happiness. So what exactly is joy?

Joy plunges much deeper than just a feeling or emotion of upbeat, positive thinking. It is a conviction. Joy has a critical ingredient—the next divine character trait on the list: peace (Galatians 5:22-23). We have peace with God because we love and obey Him. We have peace with others because we're genuinely concerned for them. We have peace of mind within, knowing that even when we feel friendless, God loves us and is working to include us in His grand future.

To build the habit of happiness, we must have inner joy and peace of mind in our lives.

A key word inspired in Scripture that translates as "happy" is "blessed." So happiness is to be blessed by God. No matter what happens in our lives, we have life, air to breathe, food to eat, some family and some friends, a measure of health, a measure of wealth, opportunity to learn and grow, and an incredible future in God's family. With all these, we should be happy!

How to make happiness a habit

We can find all kinds of ideas about how to be happier in other magazines and books. Some of them may help someone find a certain measure of contentment, but it takes some straight-up, vertical thinking to find and maintain true, spiritual happiness. Here are a few keys that will help:

1. Put God in our lives. Did you know that God earnestly desires that we human beings seek Him? God's purpose for creating us was that we would become His children—part of His family (John 1:12).

To know and worship God makes us happy—we are doing what we were made to do. "Happy is the man who is always reverent..." (Proverbs 28:14). To revere God, we need to pray and read our Bibles on a regular basis.

When we put God in our lives, we build real faith—a rock-solid, honest and trust-filled relationship with Him. As Proverbs 16:20 says, "Whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he." We can read "blessed" for "happy," as it means the same. To think "blessed," however, also makes us think thankful, honored, loved, understood, humbled, safe and contented to the max!

2. Obey God's law. We have to study all the laws of mathematics, physics and chemistry in school. Guess who made those laws? That's right. Now do you think God would make His finest and best creation—humanity —without creating laws of human conduct that produce true happiness? Of course not.

The psychobabblers who tell us that there are no absolutes (absolute laws, that is)—or that each person has his or her own "truth"—haven't got a clue. They are the blind leading the blind. Remember, as a vertical thinker, you're not blind.

The proverb says, "Happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). How does that work? Consider God's law about sex. God says not to have sex before marriage or outside of it (1 Corinthians 6:18; Exodus 20:14). The law says that sex is sacred within marriage and is sin with anyone else at any other time. In one fell swoop that wipes out tons of unhappy broken hearts, the misery of STDs and the gut-gnawing, guilty conscience.

To keep the law means to love God above all things and, as Jesus said, to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). All good happiness experts point out that a major key to the happiness habit is to look outward toward others. We take our minds off ourselves and our problems as we lend a hand to help, serve and encourage other people. When we stop thinking about our own selves so much, our spirits rise, the clouds part and the sun shines beautifully on our faces.

3. There is hope. Happiness thrives on the future. God has planned a beautiful future to share with you, me and everybody who chooses to be in it. That future is called the Kingdom of God, which Jesus Christ will soon bring to this planet at His second coming.

To know that you have exciting potential, opportunity and possibilities is the road to happiness. Contrast it to the despair of no hope, no options, only more misery that so many face in this sad world today. This aspect of happiness helps us remain realistically optimistic. It gives us practical confidence that we can get up and do great things. It fills us with hope. "For surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off," says Proverbs 23:18.

So let's build our own thankful list, stay hopeful and do the right thing before God and man, because that's what will make us happy.

These are the three basic, vertical points of building the happiness habit in our lives because they all point to our loving and happy Creator. Any "keys" to happiness we hear elsewhere must come under these principles or they are of no more value than trying to roller-skate in a buffalo herd. VT

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