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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

What Makes Me Happy?

I had mixed emotions about going to see my mother. She was 93-years-old and had not recognized me for years. It was becoming increasingly difficult to converse with her. She never initiated conversation and rarely responded. Much of the time it seemed she didn’t even hear what I said. I prayed as we traveled that God would somehow let us connect—and that we could be a blessing to her.

The visit was very discouraging. Mother was totally flat. Nothing ignited a spark or brought a response. I looked at my husband asking with my eyes, “What do we do?” I began to question whether or not it was worth the six-hour trip to Atlanta.

Suddenly I remembered a question from someone at church, so I asked, “Mother, are you happy?”

She seemed to be considering the question, but it took her a long time to answer. Finally, in a monotone voice she said, “I haven’t considered that. What does it take to make happy?”

I said, “That’s a good question!” Wow, what does it mean for someone with advanced Alzheimer’s to be happy? After some thought, I added, “I guess happiness means contentment. Are you content?”

We waited so long that I wondered if she remembered the question. She kept moving her lips into and out of her mouth as if priming a pump. I considered repeating the question, or even changing the subject.

Then, suddenly she broke the silence. In a deadpan voice she said, “Yes, I’m content. You could say I have contentment.” Though void of emotion, her words rang true. You could tell she understood, and that she meant it.

The Lord answered my prayer. He let me connect with my mother. He also spoke to me through her. Her question stuck. What does it take to make happy?

We spend a lot of time and energy pursuing happiness. We act as if it is owed us.  Even adults make major decisions with happiness as their only goal. In fact, in the United States’ Declaration of Independence, we claim a right to the pursuit of happiness. But how many people consider, “What does it take to make happy?”

Too often, we search for happiness in things dictated by society—in possessions, success, prestige, or fun (entertainment, immorality, food, drinking, or drugs). We think we’ll be happy if we can get what we want. We pursue happiness in temporal fulfillment of personal desires.

Mother’s question was profound, but a better one might be, “What does God say it takes to make happiness?” I checked it out. The primary words in the Bible for happy —in Old and New Testament—are often translated blessed. It seems that happiness is the same as, or comes from, being blessed. In other words, genuine happiness comes from God’s hand.

Many verses paint a very different picture from the self-centered happiness that we pursue. For example:

"Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves” (Job 5:17, NASB).
“Happy is he who is gracious to the poor” (Prov 14:21, NASB).
“Happy is he who keeps the law” (Prov 29:18, NASB).
“Behold, we count those blessed who endured” (James 5:11, NASB). 
“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (1 Pet 4:14, NASB) 

Mother always was good at asking the right question. It seems that true happiness is closely related to our relationship with God and receiving something through His hands—even if that something is reproof, or being reviled for His name.

God must have led me in my contentment-response to Mother’s question. Happiness and contentment are closely related. We may seek happiness through personal temporal gain, but God says,

“Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment”  (1 Tim. 6:6, NASB).

I don’t know if my mother was blessed by my visit, but she blessed me. I’m happy that my godly mother influences me toward the LORD—even when her mind is compromised by Alzheimer’s.

What does it take to make happy?

“He whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he” (Prov. 16:20, KJV).

Copyright © Kay Camenisch. Used by permission.

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