Gretchen Rubin was living what anyone would call a good life. She had a handsome, loving husband, two adorable daughters, excellent relationships with her family and friends, a successful career, a comfortable home, and good health. Yet despite all this, she often felt angry, melancholy, insecure, listless, guilt-ridden, and unduly upset by minor setbacks.
One rainy day while riding a downtown bus, Gretchen looked out the blurry window and realized she was caught on a treadmill. Life was slipping by, and she wasn’t enjoying it. She wasn’t depressed, and this wasn’t a midlife crisis. It was a feeling of deep discontent that something essential was missing. As she gazed out the water-streaked window, she asked herself, What do I want from life, anyway? The answer came back, Well . . . I want to be happy.
Gretchen was gripped by fear—a fear that she’d never find happiness. The days are long, but the years are short, she thought. Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on things that really matter. What changes could she make to find the missing pieces to the puzzle? It was something she had to do. She decided to spend a year retooling her life in ways that would lift her out of her malaise and bring on the happiness she was missing.
It’s natural for people to struggle with happiness in the face of disappointment or loss, but many of us are like Gretchen Rubin. We’re not facing serious difficulty and may even be blessed with love, family, good homes, and good jobs—all things that are supposed to add up to a good life. Yet real happiness eludes us. Life plods on, day after day. Habits settle into routines, and the mere ordinariness of life drags us into a sense of malaise. We experience no real unhappiness, but neither do we experience real joy.
Gretchen Rubin’s search for happiness led her to philosophers, noted authors, and popular gurus. She read Plato, Montaigne, Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, Oprah, the Dalai Lama, Buddha, Tolstoy, and Virginia Woolf. Her conclusion was that we can build happiness into our lives through behaviors and attitudes, such as discipline, aiming high, good habits, positive outlook, passion, contemplation, and willed contentment.
Gretchen wrote about her journey in her blockbuster book, The Happiness Project. Clearly, she hit a nerve, because her book spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list!
What is this malaise that affects so many of us? I think it’s more than just the absence of happiness. I believe it’s the absence of the joy that comes from a deeper relationship with God. The Lord wants us to rejoice in Him, and what God has promised us transcends anything else: God has promised us joy.
Throughout the Bible, the words happiness and joy are used almost interchangeably. But in Christian practice, when we strive for the fruit of the Spirit, joy imparts a permanent, inner change of heart, mind, and soul. It is well and good and even healthy to strive for happiness, but it’s indescribable to experience the joy of the love of Jesus Christ.
David Jeremiah, A Life beyond Amazing: 9 Decisions That Will Transform Your Life Today (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
I have just completed a series of lessons based on David Jeremiah’s book, A Life Beyond Amazing. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.