A few weeks ago I was with a group of senior adults and asked, “How many of you would say, for the most part, that you’re happy?”
Almost all of them raised their hands.
I told them I’m mostly happy, too, although I would be completely, totally, 100 percent happy if my kitchen floor would stay clean, I had a flat stomach and if I could eat birthday cake with butter cream frosting every meal every day without feeling sick or getting fat.
My daughter’s boyfriend was the happiest guy on the planet when the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat in basketball, but not so happy a few days later when Vancouver lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He said the one thing that would make him do the everlasting happy dance is if the Miami Dolphins would win the Super Bowl.
Happiness is so tenuous.
A few years ago, Gretchen Rubin embarked on a happiness project. She spent an entire year test driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies and lessons from pop culture. Anything that promised “Do this and you’ll be happy,” she did.
The results, a book titled “The Happiness Project,” reached number two on the New York Times Bestseller list. She also has a blog (www.happiness-project.com) where she posts her happiness tips — and also how not to be happy.
On her blog she wrote that in her research she discovered that some people don’t want to be happy and some people are only happy when they’re miserable. Everybody’s out to swindle them. Every politician is corrupt. Every good deed is suspect. People who smile all the time are up to something or they’re just plain morons.
Her tips on how not to be happy include: Be sure to tell everyone how the food, service or performance fell short. When someone bugs you, whether a stranger talking loudly on a cell phone or a relative telling the same stupid jokes year after year, tell as many people about it as possible.
Try to control people and/or circumstances. Expect perfection from yourself and others. Overspend and overeat.
Her tips for being happy include: Be grateful, sing in the morning, use good manners, laugh out loud, quit nagging and complaining, don’t expect or demand praise or recognition, give something up.
Probably if everyone followed her advice we could all raise our happiness levels, but is that really the goal of those of us who call ourselves Christians? God wants us to be joyful and thankful, but does he want us to be happy?
Years ago former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann told his second ex-wife the reason he cheated on her was because “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.” (I think Joe Theismann wanted Joe Theismann to be happy.)
Let’s just say that God wants us to be happy. Does that end justify the means? Where do you draw the line? Maybe you draw it at adultery or murder or armed robbery, but what about the pursuit of the ultimate fine dining experience or the extremist extreme makeover of your house or your body? How do you know when or if you’ve reached your happiness limit?
What if you could have everything you think will make you happy only to discover you’re still not satisfied?
I think God sometimes lets us have what we think will make us happy just so we can taste exactly how much it doesn’t.
That’s not to say God doesn’t give us moments of happiness — breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, an emotion-soaring piece of music or delicious piece of chocolate, a day when everything goes right followed by a good night’s sleep, a walk in the woods with a friend.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God … Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
God never promised in this life we would be happy 24/7 or even 16/5. He did, however, promise us joy in sorrow, peace in pain, comfort in suffering. He said if we delight ourselves in him, something amazing would take place: He would give us the desires of our hearts, which turns out to be himself (Psalm 37:4).
Truly, whether we think so or not, that is ultimate happiness.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at email@example.com.