Nearly every foolish, selfish, and destructive choice has been rationalized by these five words; I deserve to be happy. Those words are trumpeted like a battle cry from the carnal mind that desperately wishes to charge into some action to satiate one temporal appetite or another. One can almost hear the tempter whisper, “You worked hard today, you deserve this inebriation… again,” or “You feel neglected, you deserve an evening of pornographic indulgence or perhaps even an adulterous affair,” or “You had a rough week (or life), surely you deserve this particular vice.” Now, before you slam your coffee cup down and march out in feigned offense, allow me to refresh that mug and do me the kindness of hearing me out.
Let us begin by pointing out that it is a rather egotistical proclamation to make of oneself to declare, “I deserve to be happy.” The implication is that one has somehow earned happiness and is now, in fact, owed happiness. There are people in the world of whom I might say, “They deserve to be happy.” Such individuals would typically be of the sort who, through a lifetime of sacrifice, have unselfishly served others. Of course, the kind of person I’m referring to has likely already found happiness in their service. So, while I might say that someone of exceptional service to their fellow man deserves to be happy, I would never claim such a mantle for myself.
Please do not misunderstand me. I want to be happy. I would prefer to be happy. Even the Declaration of Independence recognizes the right of every individual to be free to pursue happiness, but to demand that I deserve it is quite another thing.
Why would one believe they deserve to be happy? Perhaps they have done some good deeds. To that I say, “So what?” If your deeds were done so that you may reward yourself then it can hardly be said any longer that they are good. Perhaps the individual has experienced hardships in life. However, everyone has experienced some sort of hardships in life. We live in a broken world. Hardships are part of life (even Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, was betrayed and crucified), but they don’t automatically qualify us for deserved happiness. Perhaps the deserving is based on the belief by the individual that they are a good person. In response to that I ask, by whose standard are you good and therefore deserving of happiness?
Now, I do not wish to belabor the point of deserving happiness, because God offers us joy everlasting in His presence as a gift. However, that is not a gift of a carefree life here in this fallen world. (Again, I refer you to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.) Therein lies the root of the “I deserve to be happy” mantra; the search is for something, anything, to make us happy now. Therefore, caution is often thrown to the wind and we rush in where angels fear to trod without thought of consequences that assuredly await down the path. The happiness that is so often sought after in this scenario is a fast, but fleeting, happiness.
The glaring issue with this expedient and easy happiness resides in that particular object or person we have placed the burden upon to make us happy. The hard truth is this; if you need something or someone to make you happy, then your happiness is an illusion. It is a mirage, albeit a convincing one for a time, that will eventually let one down and be exposed for its true nature. When that happens, the individual is then brought to a crossroads; either admit they were foolish and forsake this path or stubbornly press ahead in order to save face.
Any disciple of Christ worth their salt will tell you that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is conditional. A certain set of circumstances is required to make one happy and once those conditions change, so does one’s mood. Joy, however, can exist regardless of outside forces; sometimes even in defiance of them!
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we find the Apostle Paul and his fellow minister, Silas, being mistreated and hated. These two good men who performed many good deeds and had suffered many hardships were beaten and thrown into prison. Acts 16:23-25 reads, “23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Now, considering the treatment they just received, one would be hard-pressed to argue that Paul and Silas were happy. Conditions would not allow that. What we can recognize is that they had joy; joy that manifested regardless of current conditions.
When it comes down to it, the question is not one of deserving, but of wanting. Therefore, what is it that you want? Do you want to continually pursue happiness rooted in conditions which will eventually change and inevitably leave you empty and dry (not to mention the collateral damage that such pursuits sometimes leave in their wake)? Or, do you want joy which will be present even when conditions cannot make you happy? There is a peace and a freedom that comes with that joy that mere happiness will never provide for you. I dare say that your choice between these two avenues will most likely be decided based on your level of stubbornness vs. you level of humility.
I leave you with this quote to contemplate from C. S. Lewis, “Human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.