Goals are important!   In fact, studies continue to prove how goal-setting can help us achieve more, and accomplish greater fulfillment in life.  Although setting goals can help us get more out of life, there are just some things that make horrible goals.  Happiness is one of those things. It’s the worst goal ever.

We live in a culture where happiness is used as an indicator for success.  Being happy seems to mean we have “arrived”, so we strive for it.  We are more than willing to invest whatever resources are necessary to ensure that we achieve this coveted goal.  Spending hours contemplating it, and a fortune pursuing it, happiness has become a common criteria for success. The trouble with happiness though, is that it’s tricky.

What is happiness and what makes it so tricky?

Happiness is a mental state of well-being, defined by positive, or pleasant emotions. It’s tricky for the very reason that defines it; happiness depends on positive or pleasant emotions. It depends on how we feel. How can we have a goal that depends on something as unpredictable as emotions?  Happiness is a terrible goal because we are human, and we have both positive AND negative emotions.

Our humanness can trip us up and cause us to lose sight of “happiness”.  It’s a fact, sometimes we just can’t avoid feeling less than positive or pleasant!  In order for us to maintain happiness, we would need to find a way to sustain, indefinitely, whatever circumstance or activity is causing the pleasant feelings. That’s absurd!  There is no one thing that can fit that criteria.   Happiness ends up being a terrible goal because we can’t depend on our emotions to cooperate.

I think when we say “my goal is to be happy”, we aren’t really looking for “happiness”.  I think we are looking for more than just pleasant feelings, and positive emotions.  I think we are yearning, for a deep seated sense of well-being that comes from knowing we were created for something much, much bigger than happiness.  I think we are looking for joy.

Joy is the fruit of a life lived in the spirit.  It is the fruit of knowing who we are, and who we aren’t, and being ok with both.  Joy is born from the understanding, that we are all on this earth with a particular purpose, and that we possess a set of unique strengths and gifts, specific to that purpose.  Joy comes from knowing who God created us to be, and showing up as that person more consistently than not.  It is being true to that person in every situation, and with everyone.  Joy is knowing we are imperfect creatures, and realizing that perfection in this world is a myth.  Joy is knowing that our identity doesn’t lie in what we do, or who we are in this world.  Joy is knowing that our identity begins and ends in Christ.

The thing about happiness is that it can only exist while the activity that is causing the happiness continues.  Once the activity is over we need to find something else to fuel the positive emotions. You see happiness is based on pleasant experiences or activities.  If the activity ceases to be pleasant, then happiness runs away.

Joy on the other hand, can’t be chased away by negative emotions. Cue Job, and his testimony to joy in the midst of “unrelenting pain”.  You can’t see what causes joy, you can’t hear it, and if you are not the person experiencing joy, then you can’t feel it either.  It just is.  Joy is a movement of the spirit within us, it comes from an abandoning of our will to the will of God.  It comes from a deep understanding that God is in control of everything…. So we let go.  We stop trying to control situations, we stop trying to steer outcomes, we stop trying to “manage” people “for their own good”.  We stop trying to finagle, and we start trusting.

Where happiness is in our head, joy is in our heart.  Although happiness can be fleeting, joy is eternal.  Happiness defines our emotions, while joy defines the essence of who we are.  Happiness might be the worst goal ever, but living a joy-filled life can lead us to the greatest fulfillment ever.