Happiness is an emotion arising from an inner conviction that all is right with our world. It is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. Everyone wants to be happy, but happiness, as our ultimate goal, can be elusive. People may make decisions based on what they think will make them happy, then experience despair when happiness never comes. People who assume that God wants them to be happy may justify activities clearly prohibited in the Bible by arguing that such choices are necessary for happiness. But is our personal happiness God’s ultimate goal for us? Does He even want us to be happy?
We were created by God in His image, and it is His design that creates our innate desire to be happy. We know happiness is possible because God is happy, and we are like Him. When God created the first man and woman, He placed them in a garden and filled it with everything they needed to be happy (Genesis 1:29–30; 2:8–9). But they fell for the lie that happiness is contingent upon having everything they wanted (Genesis 3:1–6). Their failure to acknowledge God as their Source of happiness led to sin and banishment from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23–24). From that day on, humanity has struggled to regain the sense of happiness that Adam and Eve experienced in the presence of God.
God wants us to be happy but not at any cost. His goals for us are higher, broader, and more lasting than fleeting happiness (Isaiah 55:9). In fact, the pursuit of happiness is not a theme of the New Testament. Instead, we find repeated commands to deny self (Mark 8:34), take up a cross (Luke 9:23), and consider oneself dead to sin (Romans 6:6–7). These instructions may appear contradictory to the idea that God wants us to be happy. How can we be happy when we must choose the opposite of what we desire?
Spiritual laws are as real as physical laws, and there is a spiritual law governing happiness. God’s path to happiness goes a different direction from the path we would naturally choose. Sinful actions can usually be traced to one foundational lie: that we will be happier if we do this thing. But God says, “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!” (Psalm 1:1, CSB). God delights in confounding the wise by using foolish things to accomplish His purposes, weak things to shame the strong, and lowly and despised things to magnify His glory (1 Corinthians 1:27–28). The psalmist says that we are happiest when we are delighting in God’s promises and commandments (Psalm 112:1).
God wants us to be happy, but the temporary thrill sin provides is not true happiness. Sin can produce feelings of happiness as long as we are getting what we want. Losing our temper produces a brief feeling of happiness because we get to let off steam. But the consequences—broken relationships and wounded loved ones—are not happy (Proverbs 29:22). Sexual immorality produces brief feelings of happiness but its end—shame, hurt, unwanted pregnancy, alienation from God—is not happy (1 Corinthians 6:18). The pursuit of money can produce feelings of happiness as long as the stock market is up and thieves stay away (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6:19; 1 Timothy 6:10)—but many who sit enthroned on piles of money attest to a sense of emptiness. The world is full of people who pursued their own dreams but are not happy.
Augustine of Hippo rightly stated in his fourth-century book Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The truth is there is a “God-shaped vacuum” in the heart of every person, and that void can only be filled by God through Christ, not by any created thing. Happiness is a gift from God that can be fully known only in proper relationship with Him.
God does want us to be happy, and He has provided all we need for life and godliness through Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:2). He has designed the human heart to experience its greatest ecstasy in worship, its deepest satisfaction in serving, and its greatest love through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are living in fellowship with Him, we can expect to be happy regardless of our temporary circumstances (Philippians 4:11–13). Our goal is the prize awaiting us in eternity, so we can endure earthly difficulties while remaining full of hope (2 Corinthians 4:17). When our joy and hope are based on that which cannot be taken away, we have found true happiness, and God is pleased.