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Love, joy, and the pursuit of happiness

July 20, 2013

It’s fascinating to me that I get to live in a country (the U.S.), and quite possibly the only country in the world, that was founded (and literally created from scratch) from a printed legal document. Unlike most countries in the world it’s one, that from it’s inception, established a democratic government ruled by a highly organized, thought-out, and collectively approved set of rules, and rights, and guidelines. One that seems to work well for a highly literate written culture born just a few hundred years ago. A country, that in addition to holding personal rights and freedoms to a high regard of unparalleled level, is one that even has, in it’s Declaration of Independence, a right to the “pursuit of happiness”. – Not a right to be happy, but a right to “pursue happiness”.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And boy, do we lose it sometimes when we’re not happy. Or things don’t go our way. Or we don’t feel listened to or given the respect we think we deserve. The ongoing quest for “happiness” can be like a drug buzz that’s short-lived and needs to be followed up by more. That’s because happiness is a temporary condition not a goal that can be reached. It’s momentary – a bit like a dog that spends a lot of time and energy chasing its own tail. Which leaves us with what to do in between. Just because pursuing “happiness” is something we have a “right” to do doesn’t mean it makes a very rewarding or wise occupation.

Below is a clip of some very happy and joyful folks that live day in and day out in some of the most extreme poverty in the world. Check out the power that 4 deflated soccer balls can have on a group of people who literally exist on less than $2/ day:

Now that’s some happy people! (and they hadn’t even got the balls pumped up yet.)

But I get a clear sense that they know that the excitement of the new balls will wear off. The balls themselves will wear out, leak air, and get lost or maybe even be stolen. The joy they experience is not dependent on or a result of the gift of soccer balls. The joy is a product of the hope that is represented in the relationships surrounding the gift of the soccer balls as an expression of love.

Joy, it appears to me, is really important. Joy is what lives inside us irregardless of our circumstances, pain, successes, failures, or “happiness index”.

Although joy and happiness can/do co-exist, one ought not view them as synonymous because in reality joy and sadness can also co-exist. It seems my tendency is often to somehow equate wealth with joy, or peace with joy, or even happiness with joy. Although, I’ve never seen anyone that I would consider wealthy, peaceful, or happy, that didn’t, at the core of who they appeared to be, possess joy, these things in and of themselves don’t generate joy. Joy comes from something else. Joy, comes from a thankful heart and primarily from a self-sacrificing love.

I believe that the foundation of real happiness and security is joy and the root of joy is hope that results from love. It’s loving the way God loves. Love produces hope. It’s loving without the expectation of return or reward. It’s loving those who can’t or won’t love back. It’s loving those we may not know or even like all that much. It’s about loving people who don’t always fit our mold or behave the way we wish they would. It’s about forgiving others for the hurts and let-downs and the failure to live up to our expectations. Forgiveness and Love go hand in hand.

Joy comes from loving for love sake. And that involves grace and forgiveness. But it brings about a hope and peace that nothing or no one can take away. When we have joy, happiness is  free to pursue us – for as long as we live.

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