How can I find happiness? That’s sort of the question that comes to me on a regular basis these days. I find I’m generally a happy person, but that’s not quite the same as happiness, is it? Happiness is more of a pervasive feeling, one that infects the whole of our lives. It’s kind of like a belief in God. if we truly believe in God, then we see God in every place we look, in every person we meet, and in every creature we come across. Happiness is much the same, if we have happiness in our world, then it’s found in the people and places we are privy to come across. It colors and defines us and our experiences in almost every aspect.
My friend Glorias shared a post on FaceBook this week that said something like, “I want to apologize to the people I called old at 50 when I was 18.” Very funny, and poignant for those of us who have reached our older years. I was talking with my friend Hadley on the phone and reminiscing about our lives. I met Hadley when we both lived in Midland, Texas. We were in our early 20s then, and of course, thought we had the world by the tail. We were living and enjoying life. We both had our own places and worked at decorating and making them our own little castles. Of course, when you’re young, your eyes are wide open and taking in all the things you dream of having. In our town, there was a particular furniture store with big plate glass show windows with all their offerings on display. We’d drive by and spot this or that. We’d pull in and just walk to the windows and dream of the day we could add this and that to our homes. “I know I’ll be so happy when I can purchase that bed, that chair, that sofa.” Do you know the feeling?
As Hadley and I started recounting our experience of that time of our lives, he reminded me of our “old” friend, Mr. G. It was a little jarring what he said. “You know, Mr.G was probably the age we are now when we met him.” I hadn’t even thought of that. It was so very true. Mr. G was always our “old” friend. He lived to be 105, and we spent time with him for several of his significant birthdays. Always a delight to be around, talked, and shared so much history with us. He and his wife moved from New York to Midland for her health. The dryness of the environment was going to be good for her. She died only a very few years after they had moved to Midland. Even though he lost his mate so early after his move, Mr. G was one of the happiest people I have ever known. He read vociferously, he played the organ for his church, engaged in volunteer work, he had a social circle. He was retired from a government job and lived on his pension, so not a wealthy man in the slightest.
In thinking about happiness, I don’t believe we can find it in what we can purchase, or in the amount of wealth we can accumulate. Believe it or not, Hadley and I still have the same bedroom suites we bought from that little furniture store some 40 years ago. Are we happy with our purchases, sure. Does it define our happiness, not in the least? It’s simply something we acquired along the journey.
As I contemplate the time when I will eventually retire from the church, I have thought about what I will do then. My mother shared her wisdom with me from her experience of retirement. She said, “Tommy, retire to something, not from something.” She and my father had a very long retirement but I’m not so certain how happy it was. She always seemed to be searching for purpose and meaning. She had hobbies, like quilting and gardening, but it was not fulfilling and not necessarily happiness-producing.
As I inquire about happiness and how to find it, I realize it is not something that can be manufactured by what we have or acquire, it’s not something others can give us, it’s not something that we find when we leave one position for another.
Visiting again the FaceBook post my friend Glorias shared, how we look at persons at one stage of life, changes as we approach that stage. I think Mr. G was one of the happiest people I knew because he could find and take joy in the simplest of things. His happiness was derived from his relationships with others and the world. He valued people, not things. He was always happy for me and Hadley when we would share with him some purchases, some new bauble we had bought. But he was the happiest when we were just conversing, one to another. His happiness was found in his world. He knew what it was like to be young, he knew what it was like to be old. He knew what it was like to have a companion, he knew what it was like to be alone. He savored his life as it came to him.
Maybe that’s where happiness is found, in savoring life as it comes to us. I have to say, I have enjoyed my life and have no desire to go back to any stage I’ve passed. I lived it at the time, and now I’m living in my older years and finding real happiness at the moment. I took my morning walk today, I passed by a momma duck and her brood down along the creek. She was walking confidently while her brood clucked and ran along behind her. If ducks could smile, she would have had the biggest smile ever. She just was in her element and enjoying the morning with her babies. Further along, I met a squirrel that decided to play peek-a-boo with me. The squirrel ran up the tree and then peeked around the trunk at me. I called to him and said, “Hey fella.” He ducked back behind the trunk, scurried down the tree to the bottom, and peeked out again at me. I told him, “I see you.” He fluffed his tail. He seemed to be enjoying the interchange.
Every day I wake up, I think “God you have given me the best life.” And sometimes I think, “Now if you would just let me win the lottery, I could be happier.” But is that really true? Of course not. Money brings its own challenges and miseries. Can people bring happiness? Sometimes they can bring us some joy, but not always. Happiness is found in no other place than inside of you and me. Yes, we will have our ups and downs, our sadness, and our joy. Yes, we will find some parts of our lives more desirable, and some less desirable. Yes, we will grieve at times, and rejoice at other times. Happiness isn’t a moment, it’s ingrained in our lives if we seek it.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote about what he knew. He says in Philippians 4: 11-13, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul knew a full life, but he also knew happiness because he found it inside of himself. He found it in his faith in Jesus Christ. That faith forged happiness that no circumstance could take away.
The writer of Ecclesiastes 7:14 says “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that humankind may not find out anything that will come after God.” This author knew of life’s ups and downs and knew true happiness was not found at one extreme or the other, it’s found inside of us where God dwells.
I hope and pray you will find happiness in each day. May the God who made all that was, and is, and will be, pour into your spirit the blessing of true and lasting happiness.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,