Everyone is seeking happiness, but most people never find it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains to us what true happiness is and how we can find it.
An Englishman once said, “The trouble with you Americans is that you have to be so confoundly happy. You have dedicated yourselves to the pursuit of happiness. And you boast about it as an inalienable right, as though happiness were the supreme and absolute goal of all existence. Surely there are more important things in life than just to be happy.”
Happiness is an American right. It’s in our Declaration of Independence, right alongside life and liberty. I know people living within that truth of the Declaration of Independence, their whole life wrapped up in the pursuit of happiness. Sometimes it can be confusing to watch them. One man buys a dozen homes in hopes of making himself happy; another goes into the wilderness to live like a hermit. One woman becomes a nun in hopes of finding happiness, another a harlot. One young man thinks happiness is found in body building, while another tries to find it by destroying his body with drugs. One couple thinks happiness is found in children, while another couple is convinced children get in the way of happiness.
Malcolm Muggeridge once called the pursuit of happiness the most disastrous purpose set before mankind, something slipped into the Declaration after “life and liberty” at the last moment, almost by accident. “Happiness is like a young deer,” Muggeridge said, “fleet and beautiful. Hunt him, and he becomes a poor frantic quarry; after the kill, just a piece of stinking flesh.” In his Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis had the arch-devil, Screwtape, advise his apprentice demons on the lure of happiness. He called it “an ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure.” That’s exactly how the pursuit of happiness works in this world.
In James Houston’s book, In Pursuit of Happiness, a woman named Gloria describes her pursuit of happiness as being at an amusement park.
Many times I have felt as if I am trapped on a huge roller coaster that goes up and down, round and round. Sometimes I manage to escape and get off the mad ride, but I’m still in the amusement park. Outside the park the world looks exciting, but it’s too risky. I’m not sure that I could survive out there, so the amusement park remains still the biggest attraction in my life. For everyone is being persuaded to stay inside the gates of the amusement park and get back on the roller coaster … Yet I still think of people in the past who have gone outside the park. They are the ones who truly seek God with all their heart, mind, soul, and body, and are fully prepared to give it all up. They are the ones who live uncompromising lives, who don’t feel the grip of money, the pressure of society, the weakened desire for goodness, the punctured self-discipline, the crushing fear of the future, the horror of death, the threat of injustice, the need of security, the rule of self. They don’t struggle for faith, hope, and love; they pour out from them and through them. It is these people outside the park who seem to be so totally free … I am not happy. I wish I could live outside the amusement park. I wish I had the stuff to do it, but I am afraid at the center I am empty.
I know people who live in the amusement park, getting off the roller coaster long enough to gaze through the gates at real life outside, but without the courage to go there. As soon as the roller coaster stops, they get back on. Pleasure is an anesthesia for deadening the pain of their empty lives. There seem to be few happy people around today. That’s why I appreciate the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Nine different times Jesus uses the word blessed, which roughly translates to “happy.” The core values Jesus offers in the Beatitudes describe life that is really worth living: life outside the amusement park.
Blessed means “happy, blissful, joyous, ecstatic.” In the original Greek, there is no verb in any of the beatitudes. So the verses literally say, “Blessed the meek” and “Blessed the poor in spirit.” Those characteristics the Lord lists are like an explosion on His lips, a description of the inner joy we can experience. This expression was commonly seen in the Book of Psalms. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,” it says in Psalm 1:1. Anyone who has ever been burned by ungodly counsel will attest to the fact that a man who doesn’t get mixed up with ungodly counsel is happy. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,” we read in Psalm 32:1. We are to be blissful and ecstatic over the fact that the Lord has taken away our sins. That’s the same expression Christ used when He began talking about the Christian life. Blissful, happy, joyous—these are the words that describe the Christian walk.
Matthew 5:1–12 describes nine characteristics of the happy Christian life. If you want to know what happiness is all about, search through this “happiness manifesto” from the Lord Jesus. He’ll explain to you what true happiness is all about. As you study them carefully, you’ll find some surprising truths become clea
David Jeremiah, How to Be Happy according to Jesus: Study Guide (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 9–12.
We have just completed a Bible study on the Greatest Sermon Ever–the Sermon on the Mount. It consists of 13 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.