The Pursuit of Happiness, When We Were Made for Joy

It says it right there in the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  These are three examples given of unalienable rights granted to all humans by their creator.  According to the Declaration of Independence,” we have a right to these.  I’m not sure why these three were identified as central, as I am not a historical scholar.  Yet, I have been intrigued by choice of the pursuit of happiness.

But what does happiness mean?  Happiness can mean different things for different people.  Is there a set standard for happiness, and who gets to define the standard?  What does it mean to pursue happiness?  When I think of pursuing something, I think of trying to chase something down, capture it, and claim it as my own.  And I guess if you are pursuing something, it doesn’t mean just sitting still, but actively going after whatever you are pursuing.

Well, I think most people want to be happy.  Happiness makes us feel good.  Happiness puts a smile on our faces.  Yet, it has been my experience that happiness never lasts, but it is fleeting.  Maybe this is why we are always pursuing it.  Once we attain it, it does not last long.  The new car eventually gets dinged and dented.  The new job becomes routine.  The new outfit goes out of style.  The new relationship begins to grow stale.  The next high wears off.  Happiness is off and running, so the pursuit begins again.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says these words to his disciples:  “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Jesus promised his disciples that they could share in his joy.  Unlike happiness, joy seems to have a deeper and richer meaning to it.  John Piper defines Christian joy this way:  “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and the world.”  This kind of joy cannot be found or experienced in anything that the world has to offer, but instead, its source is in God alone.  When Jesus said to his disciples that he had said “these things,” so they might have joy, we have to ask what did Jesus say?

The verses preceding John 15:11 record Jesus speaking about our need to abide in Jesus and for Jesus to abide in us much like a branch does to a vine.  When we share our lives with Christ Jesus, then we become infused with Jesus’ joy.  We don’t pursue it or chase it down, but it is offered to us a gift of God’s grace.  An abiding relationship with Jesus Christ is the only real source of joy.  There may be happiness imitations, but they do not last.  Only the joy of the Lord is lasting and does not flee even in times of difficulty.  God’s joy is eternal.  What we receive now on earth is only amplified when we went enter into the joy of heaven.  As Fanny Crosby wrote in the great Christian hymn, Blessed Assurance:  “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.”

What is it that we are pursuing?  What is it that we have found, and has it brought lasting happiness?  Happiness will continue to slip through our fingers.  Joy, however, will anchor itself in our hearts as a constant reminder of the trustworthy source of our joy:  Jesus.

photography of woman surrounded by sunflowers
Photo by Andre Furtado on




Published by Dr. Philip W. Turner

Since 1991 I have had the joy of serving as Pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in the community of Oregon Hill in Richmond, Virginia. The people I have met a long the way have inspired me in my daily ministry. I have truly been blessed.

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