Faith & Family: Finding Happiness

Faith & Family: Finding Happiness

Unhappy at Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” At least, that’s what the song says. But Andrea feels anything but wonderful.

She has a long shopping list and two appointments before picking up the kids at school. Her husband, Dan, just called to tell her that a coworker’s unexpected absence means he will have to work late for the next few days.

Andrea was counting on Dan to help her pull their boxes of holiday decorations out of storage so she can start decorating like everyone else on their street. She knows it’s not Dan’s fault, but her stress level is increasing just like her to-do list.

Where are the happy feelings she usually has at this time of year? Is it already too late to overcome the unhappiness she is experiencing?


Find your happiness by addressing some of the causes of unhappiness

By Abbie Rich, LMSW
Pathways Professional Counseling

The world says that in order to be successful, you must have a lot of money. The Word says that your treasures will be found in heaven (Matt. 6:20). Today’s culture says to do what makes you feel good. God says to serve and surrender to Him (Rom. 12:1). Society says you find happiness in material things, social acceptance and pleasurable experiences. Our Creator says happiness is found in the joy of the Lord (Ps. 16:11).

Who do you choose to believe? Where do you find your happiness? Happiness is a state of mind, and we are challenged every day to wake up and choose how we will respond to our circumstances. Many find it difficult to respond positively, which often leads to unhappiness.

Perhaps finding happiness is best discussed by examining some of the causes of unhappiness.

The need to control

As humans we desire control in all aspects of our lives because that is what makes us feel comfortable. Who has not felt unhappy when things did not go as planned? A strict schedule, a well-planned trip or a special dinner — it could be anything really that doesn’t work out the way we had hoped. One thing we must learn to relinquish is the constant desire for control. God has a plan — don’t sweat the small stuff. Unfortunately this is easier said than done.

One way to promote healthy coping in situations where we feel like life is out of control is by trying to keep the right perspective. For instance, when something disappointing happens ask yourself, is this worth ruining my day?

Reminding ourselves that God has a perfect plan is another healthy response that can help change our mindsets when we feel powerless. A family member of mine was recently sharing with me about an experience in which she had to go into the gas station to pay for her gas. She was frustrated and just wanted to be home from a long drive. She ended up in heavy traffic because of an auto accident, but she was able to praise the Lord that He protected her from being involved in that accident, which had occurred only shortly before.

Daily stress

Another top cause of unhappiness is the overwhelming feeling of stress that comes from our daily lives. Too often we must choose between sleep, health, work and getting things done around the house. We often feel there are not enough hours in the day.

When we experience stress there is a physiological and emotional response in our bodies. One way we can cope with stress is by learning to prioritize caring for ourselves in mind, body and spirit. We must take time to rest in God’s perfect peace, treat our bodies as a temple and fellowship with loved ones. This can give us the boost we need to continue fulfilling the purpose God has for us on this earth instead of leaving us in a state of overwhelming stress.
Romans 15:13 is an encouraging prayer for those who feel stressed: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God is greater than any of our stressors. We must learn to trust this truth even in the difficult moments.

Comparison traps

As people who desire the acceptance of others, it is in our nature to compare ourselves to the people around us or to those we see in the media. How often do we wish we had as much money as our neighbor or hair as beautiful as our favorite actor? “It’s not fair,” we think to ourselves or share with our friends. Playing the comparison game is like playing a game that is impossible to win. If we are constantly comparing ourselves to others we will never be content with our own lives.

Instead of comparing ourselves to others and settling into disappointment, we are called to find ourselves in the Creator. We can remind ourselves that He made us perfectly in His image and provides us with blessings beyond all measure.

Instead of asking God why He handed you the cards you have been dealt, thank God for making you unique and focus on using the gifts He has given you to praise Him. In doing this, we can find peace in our situations rather than self-pity.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Abbie Rich is a counselor and Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) who serves through Pathways Professional Counseling in Mobile and Frisco City.


God’s great grace revealed in sorrow; resurrection overcomes unhappiness

By Dustin Bruce, Ph.D.
University of Mobile

In a Genesis 3 world unhappiness, at least to some degree, befalls us all. Looking to Scripture one finds unhappiness most often expressed under the term “sorrow.” Stretching from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible records numerous stories of the people of God experiencing tremendous sorrow. In Ecclesiastes 2:23 the preacher speaks to the predicament of all humankind, when he says “all his days are full of sorrow.”

Rightly understood, sorrow represents an intrusion into God’s perfect creation. Adam and Eve were not created to experience such negative emotions. After the fall, however, sorrow became the constant companion of humanity. Though the word is not used, Adam and Eve surely experienced great sorrow at the loss of their son, Abel, at the hands of his brother, Cain. As sin destroyed, sorrow descended.

In another way of looking at it, the presence of sorrow reveals God’s great grace to us. The experience of sorrow only makes sense in the context of love. Yes, Eve would experience pain in childbirth, but she would still experience the joy of motherhood. In a fallen world, sorrow became a tax paid on love. My family and I experienced this recently upon finding out our daughter had a condition that threatened her vision in one eye. For a while sorrow became my constant companion as I lamented the problems and limitations this condition could bring to my daughter. Such unhappiness only makes sense in the context of the relationship I share with my daughter. The sorrow I feel stems from the love I have.

Scripture often makes the connection between sorrow and love. The first occurrence of the word in Scripture comes after Joseph, whose identity remains hidden, asks his brothers to bring Benjamin back to Egypt as a test of their honesty. Jacob refuses to allow Benjamin to go with them, citing the loss of Joseph and Simeon, and suggesting that losing another son “would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol” (Gen. 42:38).

Following their namesake the nation of Israel continually experienced sorrow. Jeremiah spoke of Rachel “weeping for her children” and refusing to be comforted (Jer. 31:15). Isaiah spoke of times when “everyone wails and melts in tears” (Isa. 15:3). David cried out “How long, [O Lord]?” as he references the sorrow in his heart (Ps. 13:2).

Significantly the Bible does not limit the experience of sorrow to men and women, but speaks anthropopathically of God expressing sorrow as well. Though Scripture teaches that God possesses perfect foreknowledge and does not change, biblical authors often used human terms to metaphorically convey truth about what God is like. Scripture primarily speaks of God as experiencing sorrow as a response to human sin and disobedience. Prior to the flood God feels regret and grief over humanity’s wickedness leading Him to judge the world with near total destruction. Psalm 78:40 speaks of God being “grieved” by His people while in the desert. Isaiah 63:10 similarly speaks of God’s “Holy Spirit” being grieved by the rebellion of the people of Israel. Like the sorrow of humanity, God’s experience of sorrow sits within a context of love for the people He created and, in the case of Israel, covenanted with.

‘Man of sorrows’

Love would also provide the context for God’s very entrance into human sorrow. In the incarnation God the Son took on human flesh and in so doing took on a life of sorrow. The prophet Isaiah, in one of the greatest Old Testament passages pointing to the Messiah, even decribed the Christ as “a man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). In his humanity Jesus experienced the greatest of sorrows. In the famous passage following the death of Lazarus, this truth may be seen clearly when Scripture records that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Furthermore Jesus agonized over His coming crucifixion, suggesting to His disciples that His soul was “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). In love Christ overcame His sorrow and willingly drank the cup the Father sent Him to drink.

Everlasting joy

In taking on human flesh the Son of God experienced the depths of human sorrow in order to secure everlasting joy. The night before He was crucified Jesus sat with His disciples and warned them of the intense sorrow that was to come. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He told them, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

In veiled language Jesus warned His disciples that the sorrow of His death would soon be upon them. In less than 24 hours they would lament as their Lord was crucified. An unimaginable and overwhelming sorrow would soon overtake them.

This sorrow, however, would not be the last word. “You have sorrow now,” Jesus spoke, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). With resurrection would come joy. By raising Him from the dead, God would deal not just with sin but also with sorrow. Incrementally but inevitably the resurrected Christ declared victory over sin and sorrow.

Love would no longer be the context for both sorrow and joy. In the resurrection joy would overwhelm sorrow and point to the day when God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

EDITOR’S NOTE — Dustin Bruce is associate vice president for spiritual formation and assistant professor of Christian studies at the University of Mobile.


Persistent feelings of unhappiness may need intervention

Self-esteem, stress and lack of control are three common, worldly causes of unhappiness. In addition to these it is also important that we talk about depression — not just feeling down because we had a hard day or putting off chores because we are tired, but true clinical depression.

Hear me when I say it is okay to not be okay. There are people who will support you through difficult times, so please find someone to talk to. Whether a pastor, friend or counselor, find someone with whom you can share. Scripture says “Two are better than one. … If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Eccles. 4:9–10).

Instead of ruminating on your thoughts, ask for help from someone equipped to provide you with the encouragement and support you need. There are ways to shift our thoughts and to fight against the desire to withdraw, and there are ways to promote a healthy chemical balance in the brain.

The biblical figure Job had every reason to be unhappy. Job had “no peace, no quietness” and “no rest” (Job 3:26). He struggled to understand why God would allow him to experience such pain, just as we often do when going through a hard time. The devil is here to steal, kill and destroy, but we can defend against his tactics to hurt us with God’s living truth.

We may never know why we go through such struggles, at least on earth, but we can be confident that God’s plan will always be greater than our own. James 1:2–3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

Instead of letting our circumstances determine our happiness, we can turn our test into our testimony knowing that God already knows the outcome. (Abbie Rich)

If you or someone you know is experiencing unhappiness or depression, there is someone out there to help you learn to cope with the trials you are working through. Pathways Professional Counseling has counseling offices in 40+ offices across the state of Alabama. Call Pathways Statewide Intakes at 1-866-991-6864 to be connected to a professional counselor near you.


Helpful resources

• The Sacrament of Happy: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World by Lisa Harper and Christine Caine

• 31 Days to Happiness: Searching for Heaven on Earth by David Jeremiah

• The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith

• A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy That Comes from Sacrificial Love by Dr. Larry Crabb

• The Year of Living Happy: Finding Contentment and Connection in a Crazy World by Alli Worthington