As I’ve written and talked about happiness, I’ve heard from lots of people wondering how we can experience true, heartfelt, and Christ-honoring happiness in a broken world where life can be difficult. They often ask something like, “What should I do when I just don’t feel happy?”
It’s true that we can’t make ourselves happy in God any more than a seed can make itself grow. But we’re not just seeds. We’re greenhouse farmers who can make sure the seed is planted, watered, and fertilized.
Paul said to the church in Corinth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). While God makes the crop grow, the people who raise the largest and best produce, winning ribbons at the county fair, do their part too.
We should never flippantly say, “Happiness is a choice.” It’s not always easy to choose what brings ultimate lasting happiness over what brings instant temporary happiness. Choosing happiness is not merely working harder to pull up our minds and moods, as we would our bootstraps. Rather, it’s gratefully receiving God’s grace and happiness.
Still, there’s a lot to be said for “Just do it.” Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner says, “You more likely act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”
Too many of us wait for sufficient motivation before making wise and joy-producing choices. But whether it’s exercise, eating right, or volunteering to serve others, when we take those first steps, we overcome inertia and establish new habits. Once we see the positive happiness that results, we’re much more motivated to keep up those new patterns.
In an interview with World Magazine, one of my heroes of the faith, Joni Eareckson Tada, shares this advice for what we can do on days when we don’t wake up feeling happy:
Does depression still ensnare you at times? Are you happy? I make myself be happy. I make myself sing because I have to. The alternative is too frightening. My girlfriends will tell you, in the morning when I wake up, I know they’ll be coming into my bedroom to give me a bed bath, do my toileting routines, pull up my pants, put me in the wheelchair, feed me breakfast, and push me out the front door. I lie there thinking (gagging noise), “Oh God, I cannot face this. I’m so tired of this routine. My hip is killing me. I’m so weary. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime. I have no energy for this day. God, I can’t do quadriplegia. But I can do all things through You as You strengthen me. So God, I have no smile for these girlfriends of mine who are going to come in here with a happy face. Can I please borrow Your smile? I need it, desperately. I need You.”
Our weakness, God’s strength. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with paralysis. I choose the Holy Spirit’s help because I don’t want to go down that grim, dark path to depression any more. That’s the biblical way to wake up in the morning, the only way to wake up in the morning. No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “Boast in your afflictions.” Don’t be ashamed of them. Don’t think you have to hide them and gussy yourself up before God in the morning so that He’ll be happy with you and see that you’re really believing in Him. No, no, no. Admit you can’t do this thing called life. Then cast yourself at the mercy of God and let Him show up through your weakness because that’s what He promises—2 Corinthians 12:9.