While driving his car through the streets, a successful musician was contemplating the bitterly cold weather outside and thinking how happy he was to be inside his nice warm vehicle. Stopping at a red light, he glanced over and noticed two men who were obviously down on their luck. Dressed in rags, they were talking to one another on the windy cold street corner. The musician thought about how unhappy they must be to be out in the bitter cold with nowhere to keep warm. Then both of the men laughed and it became obvious to him that one of them had just told the other a joke. They were happy. Standing outside on the coldest day of the year they were happy.
Recently I recalled an old Bobby Sherman song titled “Happiness Is.” It’s one of those songs with some pretty lousy lyrics but a catchy tune that gets stuck in your head and you sing it over and over to yourself until it almost drives you insane. That’s probably why Kent cigarettes picked up the tune for their TV jingle, and yes, I remember when they used to advertise cigarettes on TV. Anyway, the song talks about what happiness means to different sorts of people. If you haven’t heard it, don’t bother looking up the lyrics, they’re not that great. Example: “To the Beatles, it’s a yeah, yeah, yeah.” But the song brought up the question, “What IS happiness?”
We sometimes tend to tie happiness to material things. We think “If only I had this or that thing I would be happy.” Yet upon acquiring the desired thing we experience only a brief period of happiness. Once the newness of the desired possession wears off, we see something else that’s shinier and more desirable and once again think “If I only had that, THEN I would be happy.” And the cycle continues.
Personal achievements can be seen as the source of happiness as well. “If I can only win this contest, If I can only loose this weight, if I can only [insert goal here] then I would be happy.” Yet, once again, happiness is fleeting. Winning a contest or an award, achieving some other personal goal may bring a moment of happiness, but once it’s over the happiness fades quickly.
Speaking about serving others, Jesus said “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” John 13:17. He had just washed the feet of his apostles, a menial task. I don’t know about you, but washing stinky, dirty feet doesn’t immediately conjure up images of happiness in my mind. Part of the point is that you can wash people’s feet and not enjoy it, or you can decide to be happy about serving others. It’s all in how you approach the task.
Happiness is not about obtaining possessions or personal glory. Happiness is a state of mind. You can decide to be happy or not. Like those men on the cold, windy street corner, we can choose to be happy no matter what our situation. Happiness is in the doing, not in the getting. Serving others can bring happiness or not. No matter where you are, no matter what you have, no matter how rich or poor you are, ultimately whether you are happy or not depends on you. Decide to be happy.