By David Hegg
ne of the essential components of healthy living is knowing how to respond to the circumstances that barge into our lives. Those who are easily tossed around by the winds of happenstance are usually defined as immature while maturity is measured by the ability to remain steadfast and prudent in the face of uncertainty.
To remain in control when the world around you is out of control is an important character quality, but also one that is increasingly rare. It used to be that smiling through adversity – finding joy in the midst of suffering – was laudable. Today too often the more practiced option is to rant and rave and cast blame. We are fast becoming a society that has bought into the myth that happiness is our birthright, and we deserve it everywhere, every day.
The problem is that we’ve substituted happiness for joy. Fundamentally, happiness depends on circumstances while joy is the flower of conviction. Happiness is a response to the world around us. Joy is a choice to see and respond to the world around us in a way that is consistent with our fundamental beliefs that life has a purpose and everything in it can be used to better the soul for that purpose.
As parents we all learn that what might make our kids happy will not always be best for them. Even as adults we come to realize quickly that happiness is fleeting, and sometimes the things we think will make us happy end up being all flash and no substance.
Remember your last vacation? Remember how you longed for it, and filled you mind with visions of relaxation and happiness? Where did it go?
Those who chase happiness as their life goal will end up disappointed. The story is told of John D. Rockefeller who, when asked how much money was enough, opined, “Just a little more.”
But the songwriters know that money “can’t me buy love,” and it can’t secure happiness, either. Rockefeller spent his last years estranged from loved ones and angry at the world. His millions couldn’t buy happiness.
Joy, on the other hand, isn’t dependent upon circumstance, but on conviction. Joy can be present, even in dire circumstances, if at the foundation of our lives we have a well-formulated ethical system that sees life as more than an accumulation of moments, occurrences and happenings.
For example, if we are convinced that a certain strength of character is developed through suffering, then we will see it not only through the eyes of anguish but also as providing a stepping stone to virtue. Suffering can humble us, which is always good. Suffering can clarify what really matters in life and can provide times of great camaraderie and love. A conviction that such is true can produce a kind of joy even in the darkest days.
The ancient writers and philosophers recognized the inevitability of sadness in this world. Yet, they refused to see it as evil only. The biblical writer James put it this way: “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” His advice was based on the belief that steadfastness was worth the price necessary to gain it.
The Apostle Paul went into even more detail: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …”
Better than an endless search for happiness is the shaping of personal convictions regarding this life, its purpose, and the value of mature character. And the most amazing thing about becoming a person with strong moral and ethical values is that those values become the soil that produces a consistent happiness not dependent upon circumstance, but upon the satisfaction of a life well-lived.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.