We’re currently doing a series on joy at Gateway, working through Paul’s letter to the Philippians, so I’ve been particularly alert to happiness – to where we can find it, and how we can sustain it. To go with the Day of Happiness there is a Happiness Guidebook (downloadable here) which provides ten keys to happiness. These spell out a rather cheesy acronym (‘Great Dream’), but the ten keys themselves are helpful enough:
Giving – do things for others
Relating – connect with people
Exercising – take care of your body
Awareness – live life mindfully
Trying out – keep learning new things
Direction – have goals to look forward to
Resilience – find ways to bounce back
Emotions – look for what’s good
Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are
Meaning – be part of something bigger
These keys are couched in resolutely secular, therapeutic, terminology but it is interesting how easily they slot into a series preached from Philippians. This is hardly surprising though. It reflects the kind of partial knowledge by which human societies often create patterns of doing things which reflect a Christian worldview because, pragmatically, that way of doing things works. For example, if a society recognises and upholds marriage as between one man and one woman in a similar way to what Christian ethics teaches, it does not prove the validity of such marriage. Rather what is going on is that it is Christian marriage, modelled on the relationship between Christ and his church, that human society is so often drawn towards, even unknowingly, because it is this kind of marriage that serves society best.
Something similar is going on with our ten keys for happiness. To paraphrase Oliver O’Donovan, “Happiness is man’s participation in the created order. Christian happiness is his glad response to the deed of God which has restored, proved, and fulfilled that order, making man free to conform to it.” So the ten keys to happiness fit within a Christian worldview, not because they are independent of it, but because they reflect what we were made for. Crucially, what is missing from the ten keys is the grounds for happiness: the deed of God. The ten keys will help people be happier, but won’t in themselves enable us to understand how to find happiness in its completed form – just as a good marriage that does not understand how it is meant to mirror Christ’s marriage to his church is incomplete.
As well as being the International Day of Happiness, this Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is a happy day, but with the shadow of the crucifixion hanging over it. The scriptures tell us that it was for the joy that was set before him that Christ endured the cross. Christ is happy! And his great deed has made us free to conform to his happiness too. In our search for happiness, let’s not settle merely for keys, when Christ has already kicked open the door and invited us in.