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Everyone wants to be happy, right? After all, the right to the "pursuit of happiness" is written into the U.S. Declaration of Independence! Why else do we throw so much money at toys, at amusement, at relationships, at experiences ranging from helicopter skiing to dog sledding? Why spend so much time constructing miniature railroad worlds, building enormous Lego landmarks, or fishing every possible weekend!? Because these things make us happy, of course.

At least for a while.

But happiness doesn't last, does it? It's sort of like the weather. It's one thing today, but it's different tomorrow: "Chili today, hot tamale," as the saying goes. And if you try to hang onto it, it just melts away. Chasing it doesn't work very well either. We think we know what's going to make us happy. And sometimes we even get it, and it does work for a while. But then the magic disappears, and we're searching again.

That's because happiness is often based on circumstances. Since everything in our lives changes, our level of happiness changes, too. Contentment is related to happiness, but it's less flighty. It's based more on our attitude. A person can be content even in circumstances that many other people would find unpleasant.

Contentment is what we call the feeling of having enough: of being peaceful and at rest in our circumstances, even though they may not be as good as we'd like them to be. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote that "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Paul had what anybody would call an adventurous and difficult life. He was shipwrecked a number of times, met with fierce opposition to his message, stoned, thrown into prison, but yet he had this contentment. You could say he was happy, even in really bad circumstances. It was enough for him, and his mind was at rest. Now that's contentment.

Our modern world doesn't really promote contentment. In fact, much of our advertising seems to have the goal of stirring up discontentment, making people unhappy with themselves, with their circumstances, and what they have. This can work as a stimulus for us to buy more of whatever the advertiser is selling. And how often we fall for it! This might be why some people tell us to unplug for a while: turn off the TV, ditch the cellphone, step away from the computer and the tablet, and just breathe. Nobody can buy their way to contentment.

And then there's joy. Most of us know joy. It's that flash of delight that goes way deeper than ordinary happiness, that says something truly amazing and awesome has happened, something that changes everything for us. For me that flash of joy came when they told me I was pregnant after years of trying. For other people it might come when they get a new job, when they propose marriage and the other person says "yes," when they finally graduate from years of study, when they make a great discovery. "This changes everything," is what joy says. "Life is wonderful forever."

And joy, like contentment, can be lasting. I remember the joy I had when I went into physical therapy and they discovered one leg was shorter than another. An insert in my shoe, and bam! I was walking without pain for the first time in many years. It's been months now, and every so often I still smile at how things have improved in this regard.

This was a real joy for me. It changed everything. It still does.

In the same way, I look at my baby, now sixteen years old and a cranky teenager, and I smile because he exists! I have a son! He's awesome! (Well, most of the time he is.) His existence gives me joy, and that joy lasts, even when I'm angry with him or unhappy about some other issue in the family. Still, deep down, there is that joy. He exists, and this changes everything.

For Christians, there is another Source of even more reliable joy, and that is Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is God Himself. He chose to become a human being because He saw the mess our world was in, and He knew we needed help. He loved human beings. He couldn't hold back. So He lived among us, served, suffered, and died, because that was the only way He could defeat the power of evil and death in this world.

And then He rose from the dead. This was not some sort of ghost or zombie, but He was really alive again: like everybody's most desperate wish fulfilled. He promises that He will raise us from the dead, too, giving eternal life to all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior. And in the meantime, we have Him with us every day, loving us, guiding us, showing us the way we should go and helping when we get ourselves into a mess.

This is true joy for Christians. It runs deep in our spirits, no matter what sadness or trouble or grief is troubling us at the moment. That current of joy is down deep at the bottom. It's because we have Jesus, and no one can take Him away from us, not even death. This changes everything.

Written by the THRED team

Where are you on the happiness spectrum lately? Do you know a joy that remains with you, even when things could get you down? This world can bring some happiness, but it sure is fleeting. Even the best of times slip through our fingers before we know it.

You can let us know what you think about happiness in this world by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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