“Do all things without murmurings or disputings" Philippians 2:14
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.." Philippians 4:6-7
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6
I am currently reading a book entitled “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way”. I heard it referred to on The Splendid Table podcast . The author was being interviewed about any correlation between diet and happiness. This intrigued me, so I requested a copy of this book through interlibrary loan. I was expecting it to be a bit more scholarly in it’s approach. More then a research report, it is written in the popular “self-help” style familiar in today's American culture. I was not looking for an answer to the plaguing question, “How can I be happier?” I am unsure that this is a question that a follower of Christ should even be asking. Still, I was curious to know what type of research went into this project, and what conclusions popular science had come to.
I have only just begun the book, but am compelled by this concept of happiness. I have always believed that followers of Christ should be the happiest of people. No, I thought that they should be joyful. When I think of happy people I picture a party with people joking, laughing, sharing pleasant company. When I think of joy, I imagine a solitary person reflecting on truth, or a couple seeing the world through the eyes of their young child. Joy is a state of being. Happiness is an emotion.
Of course I could be wrong and the two may be synonymous. Yet joy and peace seem connected in a way that happiness does not.
"Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." Psalm 16:11
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27
Maybe the peace that the "world giveth" is what the scientists are referring to as happiness. It is based in situation and circumstance. Someone may perceive themselves as content, happy, peaceful and full of joy, but “Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom." Proverbs 15:21
I am reminded of the women at the well and Jesus’ promise of living water. Never thirsting again…is he referring to true peace and contentment? Out of these would surely flow thankfulness. And in it’s wake joy would remain.
As American’s we grow up believing that we are capable of greatness and should strive for it. We should go to the moon, cure cancer, make a million, be famous, leave our mark on society… In contrast I find my heart crying out, "As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” Psalm 40:17
Some are surely called on to do mighty acts, but for most of us this standard of greatness leaves us discontent with our accomplishments and lifestyles. Freedom is a huge responsibility. Unlike societies where our place is determined by the rulers or government, most of us have chosen this life. Some of our choices have been active whereas others came to us by default through our inaction, laziness, or poor judgment. Because of this things that are out of our control can get confused and mislabeled. Ceasing to strive for more can feel like we are giving up. We have trouble being content because it can seem complacent, even lazy.
If we live a life of godliness and contentment we may experience less worldly success then if we were striving for it. If we give thanks for what we have, we will probably have less desire to acquire more. Discontent can be a great motivator, but it comes at great cost. It robs us of a gift from our Lord, his peace.
If I am seeking a simpler life I need to be cultivating an attitude of contentment and joy. I will only find this like the women at the well did two thousand years ago. I will find it by listening to the voice of Jesus.