What does it take to make you happy? Are you someone who needs a lot of things in order to feel fulfilled or satisfied? Are you the type of person who is constantly looking for the next new thing or who is seeking something but you can never quite put your finger on what is missing?
Happiness is something that each person must define for himself or herself. It is something different for each person because each one of us lives in a different way from others and our measure of happiness that we feel personally has something to do with the way we live. Some cannot be happy unless they have possessions of a certain type or category. Some cannot be happy unless they have a certain person in their life. Some cannot be happy unless they achieve success at a certain level or have a distinction or notoriety about them that others can recognize. Some think that they cannot be happy unless they live a certain lifestyle that cannot be achieved unless they reach a certain income level. Some can be happy with little or nothing and need few material possessions.
My wife and I currently do not own a home. We once owned one but we sold it when I became a minister thinking that we would be moving a lot because the denomination I served at the time moved their pastors often from one parish to another. I have served my current parish for almost ten years now but we live in a home they provide for us (a parsonage) so we have no need for a house at the time. One day in the future still to be determined, I will retire from the ministry and we will need a place to live. We have no idea right now where that place will be and what kind of house we will live in. We have dreams of homes we like--ranch style, hill country rock, country houses, log cabins---but they are simply dreams, things that we like. It may be that at the time we need a house we will not find what we really would like and we settle for something different from what we imagined. Wherever we are, and whatever we call home will be fine with me as long as we are together there and feel safe and comfortable. The size and design of the house will not matter as much as having a place to live together to spend the years into the future together.
Happiness is internal and is a state of being that we can determine for ourselves. Every day when we stand up after getting out of bed and begin a new day is a day we determine whether or not we will be happy. There are factors that affect our feelings of happiness, for sure. Economic, health related, even weather related factors will play a part in shaping our day, but ultimately it is up to us to be the final determiners of how we will perceive these factors.
St. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi and ended his letter with words that have to do with looking at life in a way that promotes internal happiness. "...I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4: 11b-13) Paul recognized his strength was anchored in his faith in God through Jesus Christ. His level of contentment in life had little to do with what he possessed or where he lived or even with how much food he had. It was measured more by how his faith strengthened him in all of life's situations.
Happiness is a choice....I saw that on a poster or bumper sticker long ago. Maybe the words are a bit trite but the meaning of them are not. Happiness is something we determine each day as we live our lives and make choices that will lead us toward happiness or away from it. Contentment is an internal journey that takes us into the future confident in the faith we hold in the one who knows what the future holds for us.