August 23, 1989
There’s this unread book sitting on my shelf. Every time I look at it, the title bugs me... “HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE.”
I happen to be one of those pessimistic people who see the black side of things far more easily than the light side. I’ve also found out (the hard way) that when I think about black things, I can expect matching emotions -- and they are very difficult to turn off.
This trait has some good to it. I easily spot sin -- unfortunately, that includes my own. Thinking about my sin makes me sad and it’s not easy to cast off the gloom. So for me, getting from sad to happy doesn’t happen by merely deciding, “I’ll be happy now.”
Ah, but notice -- since the root of those emotions is my thoughts, then the choice to be happy has to begin at that root level. Ignore the root, and it will keep on producing its fruit. Instead, make some thought choices; replace gloomy ones with a happier kind.
In fact, replacement is only way to change what we think about. No one can really shut off their mind (even if some appear never to use it). Try this experiment: spend 30 seconds NOT thinking about the color red... now don’t think about red. Can’t do it, can you? Now try putting something in its place: think about bananas for 30 seconds...
In similar fashion, changing thoughts from gloomy topics to more pleasant ones is a possibility. When our emotions respond to those thoughts, our spirits will be lifted. Thus, happiness is a choice.
Seems simple. But there is something else to consider -- the timing. When sad thoughts enter our head, is it always best to push them out right away? How important is it to be happy all the time? Is that really the best state to be in? Or does sorrow, especially sorrow over sin, play an important part in our well-being?
Some perpetually cheery people may make the more serious-minded feel envious, even guilty, about not being that way, yet God has something to say on the value of both joy and sorrow. While He is the giver of joy, and even commands us to be joyful, He also says: “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”
In God’s mind, the heart condition is foundational. If the inner attitude is not right, He cannot give us the fullness of His joy. According to His word, we HAVE to think certain sad thoughts -- at least until sorrow does its work in bettering our inner attitudes.
Proverbs 15:13 says “... by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” We seem to come equipped with a strong spirit, an inner attitude of personal determination to stick up for our rights and do things our own way. It is only through thinking about sad things, such as our mistakes, that such willful determination is brought into an attitude God can bless.
Isaiah 66:2 explains, “... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit...” Jesus followed with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The Jews somehow thought that only the rich and only the strong-willed were blessed by God. But God slaps that down. He looks to the needs of the poor -- but even more important, He looks to the needs of those who are humble and willing to admit their spiritual poverty. And when we realize the degree of that poverty, it is a sad thought indeed.
So true happiness grows from happy thoughts, and true happy thoughts become ours when we allow sad thoughts to bring us to our knees before a holy God, one who will have mercy on the poor in spirit. Sorrow may be uncomfortable, but the right kind leads to joy forever.
One caution: when godly sorrow strikes, don’t wallow in it. Confess any sins, accept His forgiveness, and refocus on thoughts of God’s love and mercy. If we don’t, sorrow will continue. That’s like shutting the windows of heaven after God opens them. What a foolish choice.