Happiness is a beautiful thing, a sweet and delicious taste of God's goodness. Sometimes Christians think we shouldn't pursue happiness, or that happiness is a less righteous pursuit than joy (as if these were fundamentally different). I disagree. Happiness is lovely and joyful; it makes my life more fulfilling, and it makes me a better person to be around, and I want more of it.
Lots of things stand in the way of happiness. Here's one of them: we think we're supposed to be happy all the time. When we don't feel happy, we see it as a problem to be fixed. We believe that we are abnormal, comparing ourselves to people around us who appear to be happy. In the process, we repeatedly re-trigger our unhappiness by overthinking it. Happy feelings do not have a chance to re-emerge because we are locking ourselves into unhappiness by obsessively analyzing our normal emotional fluctuations.
No one feels happy all the time. As long as you are alive, your emotions will come and go, fluctuate and morph and transform. Happiness comes and goes, along with sadness, anger, joy, stress, excitement, grief, fear, compassion... This is okay, it is normal. It means you are a human being. It also means you are made in the image of God, who is shown in Scripture to experience the same range of emotions.
Getting happy is HARD for many of us because it means opening up to our unhappiness without resistance. When I first started mindfulness training, I came home and told my husband that I felt like I had just entered hospice care. Here I had been working so hard my whole life, trying to stop being so depressed, and suddenly I was just supposed to accept it? To just say yes, I'm depressed, and that is out of my control? To lay it all down and admit that I couldn't change it? That sucked, and I wept long and hard that night.
Fortunately, I've lived long enough to know the power of hospice care -- to observe how acceptance in the face of death can open us to all kinds of beautiful things. And this was the reality of mindfulness for me -- acceptance in the face of deep despair opened me up to all kinds of beautiful things. Now when I feel unhappy, facing deep despair, I have a new option: mindful acceptance. I know how to use meditation to watch the unhappiness with curiosity and openness. The unhappy feeling is no longer a problem to be fixed, it is simply an emotional event passing through. In the same way, a happy feeling is not a state to be kept or lost, and it is not a necessity for life -- it is simply a passing phenomenon. When I feel happiness, I can take time to experience the emotion without clinging to it or striving to keep it. I can experience and savor it with gratitude.
I'm a lot happier than I used to be, largely because I'm learning to be okay with feeling unhappy. Giving up the struggle against unhappiness has created new room in my soul for joy. This process of acceptance, of mindfulness, has led me to the first consistent feelings of happiness that I have experienced in my life, and I never want to go back. I am forever grateful to God for the way that mindfulness meditation has opened me up to His joy. Mindfulness meditation, and mindful awareness, get me out of my head and into the joy that God has woven into the very fabric of our universe.
I am Irene Kraegel. I work as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based college campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
© Irene Kraegel 2014-2017
Photo credit (header):