As a counselor, I have spent a lot of time over the years talking with people about how to be happy. Some people seem to just be “happy people,” natural optimists, but for many, happiness is elusive, fleeting, and often buried under dark feelings of despair and anxiety. When a person’s mindset is despairing, they usually experience physical problems as well – trouble sleeping, headaches, body aches, and digestive distress to name a few. Their bodies, minds and hearts are all sending the same message – something is wrong.
So how do we fix this? I propose that through Christ, anyone can learn to be an optimist, seeing life’s circumstances with a “glass half-full” perspective rather than naturally focusing on the negatives that tend to launch a depressive episode. C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, talks about this concept: “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… “ (p.131). He goes on to explain that it is a heart aligned with the will of God, a person indwelt with the Holy Spirit, who can accomplish this because of the transformative work of God in her life.
I believe it is the same with joy. While happiness is based in circumstances and will ebb and flow with seasons of life, joy is a lasting sense of gladness and grace about your circumstances. It is a fruit of the Spirit that a life lived in Christ will bear out in your life. Don’t waste your time determining if you’re feeling joy – decide in your mind that you are joyful about your life. Have joy. Rejoice in the Lord. Feelings follow our thoughts. As you align your mind to what is true and honoring to Jesus, joy will come as surely as Jesus rose from the dead. The apostle Paul gives us even clearer instructions: “ Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). Expecting a life of only happiness is unrealistic. But learning to be optimistic, joyful in each day regardless of circumstances? That is completely possible. The next time you find yourself trapped in despairing thoughts and perceptions about your life, remember these instructions, and turn your mind towards the Giver of all joy.