I’ve been trying to answer this question for over a year.
I used to hate this question.
I used to think happiness was shallow. I thought as a Christian that I should pursue joy instead. My understanding of happiness was limited to emotion, and feelings are fleeting. Something I couldn’t trust or depend on. Joy on the other hand was a hope and trust in the Lord despite one’s circumstance. Even if I was suffering or experiencing sorrow, I could still have joy. Happiness just seemed less mature and selfish honestly.
Then my study of ancient philosophy and wisdom literature started to change my perspective on the word “happiness”.
For Plato, happiness is a desire for self-completion, self-preservation, improvement of the soul, and fulfillment. As human beings, we are needy people. We don’t always desire what is good, but what is beautiful and good is that which will bring us ultimate happiness. For Plato, a soul directed by virtue and wisdom leads to happiness. Since we are not good by nature, we need wisdom and virtue to direct our souls. Virtue therefore is a gift from God.
Where is virtue taught? In God’s Word. Specifically in the Psalms and Proverbs.
Our modern culture has cheapened the idea of happiness, just as it has love and friendship. But the definition for happiness ranges from emotions of contentment to an overflow of joy. And it is usually tied to the idea of blessing. According to Psalm one, the “blessed” man in the original Hebrew is the “happy” man. Why is he happy? Because he is holy.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
A pursuit of holiness is a pursuit of happiness.
Some say it is better to be holy than to be happy, but ideally they are one in the same — one who is holy is happy. And the way to holiness is delighting in God’s law.
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he mediates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
A happy life, in the biblical sense, produces spiritual blessing.
“He is like a tree planted by the streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
It may be hard to believe that the holy are happy, because many times in life the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous suffer, but the distinction between that which is eternal and that which is temporal needs to be made. Even when the holy suffer, they are still “happy”.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)
Eternal happiness is peace with God. How does one find peace with God? In Christ.
The happy life is found in Christ. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, He is our only comfort in life and in death (HC 1). We are complete in Him. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (WSC 1).
To trust in God is to be happy.
So, “am I happy?”
I am learning that it is okay to be happy. I may not “happy” everyday, but I am growing in holiness and I am learning to trust and depend on God more.
My happiness is in Christ. It is not easy for me to be happy in and of myself. That is why I keep looking to Him in whom I will have eternal happiness.