Scripture: Ecclesiastes 9:7; 1 Timothy 4:4-5
The Reverend Dr. Kristina “Tina” Campbell
Black Mountain United Church of Christ
I have a Saturday ritual. After I pack up my sermon, and hang my church bag on the back door, so it’s ready for transport on Sunday morning, I go to the mail box to fetch my People magazine. This ritual is the demarcation that I can now put up my feet and relax. I don’t even know who half the people are in People magazine, but I take pleasure in looking at the glossy pictures and reading brainless stories. I can take a deep breath and exhale. You know….it’s the small things in life. It’s knowing that my week’s work is complete, that I have a safe place to relax, that I’m prepared for Sunday challenges. This quiet relaxation is a spiritual gift, a source of happiness, a simple pleasure. I’m sure you must have your own versions of simple happiness.
In his poem “The Shoes of Happiness,” Edwin Markham tells the story of a king in Istanbul who was ill. He called his wise men together to find a cure. They studied the situation and announced that only one thing could cure him, and that was to wear the shoes of a perfectly happy man. Off they went, therefore, to find this rare man and bring back his shoes. They went to a rich man, but found him unhappy because of worry over his money. They were disappointed everywhere they went, for they could not find happiness where they expected it. Neither the young nor the old supplied their man. The young were restless that youth would stay forever; the old were sad that it went away. On they searched finding loved ones worried over their beloveds, and soldiers unhappy over their dead comrades, and even the carefree pilgrim did not fit the bill. But the pilgrim answered with star still eyes that he was not glad, only wise. It appeared that the search was hopeless until one morning they met a tramp of a man with laughter on his face, and he was singing as he walked. They had found their happy man at last, and they rushed to him eagerly….only to discover that he had no shoes.
Markham’s view is that people achieve happiness only by giving up things. He felt that Jesus recognized that some people re unhappy just because they are possessed by their possessions.
John Oxemham wrote:
Some have much, and some have more.
Some are rich, and some are poor.
Some have little, some have less.
Some have not a cent to bless.
Their pockets are empty, yet they possess
True riches in true happiness.
We would certainly not be so naïve or insensitive to suggest that poverty is a source of happiness, but we are aware that after our essentials have been met, money in and of itself does not bring happiness.
Abraham Lincoln once quipped that most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. I tend to lean in that direction, and sometimes we create ways to avoid happiness. We avoid happiness when we live in the past, when we blame others for our circumstances, when we complain, when we fail to appreciate. So what is happiness anyway? Typically, happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. And, as our Scripture suggests, happiness is God’s desire for us. We are encouraged to eat our bread with joy, and to enjoy the blessings that God has given us. We are encouraged to realize that everything created by God is good and to be received with Thanksgiving.
Happiness does not mean a life without challenge, loss, grief or pain. Happy people feel a whole range of human emotions: anger, frustration, boredom, loneliness and sadness. But even when faced with discomfort, we can have an underlying sense of optimism that things will get better, that we can deal with what is happening, that we will feel happy again, because we also know that God is with us.
Happiness can even be seen as a factor in longevity. It is said that people who live long lives have two things in common. They tend to have a positive attitude and they consider laughter an essential part of their lives.
People who live long lives also appear to have a high level of emotional awareness. In other words, they share their emotions with those around them. They are skilled at creating robust relationships and resolving conflict.
So… is there a middle ground between a happy peasant and a miserable millionaire? Max Lucado suggests there is:
“It requires no credit card, monthly mortgage, or stroke of fortune. It demands no airline tickets or hotel reservations. It stipulates no Ph.D., M.D. or blue blood pedigree. Age, ethnicity and gender are not factors. Balmy climates, blue skies, and Botox are not mandated. No resources for psychoanalysis, plastic surgery, or hormone therapy. You don’t have to change jobs, change cities, change looks or change neighborhoods….” (How Happiness Happens pg. 7)
His conclusion is HAPPINESS HAPPENS WHEN YOU GIVE. In other words, doing good does good for the doer. Maybe this was true for Jesus too. When Jesus approached people, he called them by name; he listened to their stories; he answered their questions; and he visited their sick relatives and helped their sick friends. He presented relationship as an essential component of living a happy life.
I believe that God has surrounded us with opportunities to be happy, to enjoy life, to relish our day to day life. Most of these things are not expensive or out of reach. Consider the following:
1. Notice what smells good: spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove, coffee brewing in the morning, shampoo in the hair of a child, lilies in a vase.
2. Notice what tastes good: a ripe cherry, a chocolate chip cookie, fresh salsa, apple sauce.
3. Notice what looks beautiful: a sunrise, a blooming cactus, the bells in our courtyard, your spouse.
4. Notice what sounds good: rain on the roof, horse hooves on the desert floor, wind in the woods, splashing water.
5. Recall a favorite setting: an Iowa field, an Orca in the ocean, waves lapping on a shore, lilacs in the spring. Savor the memory.
Instead of complaining, we might share with one another appreciations of the gifts of happiness that are in our midst. We can make a point of mentioning to one another what we are pleased or happy about. It might be a good idea just to be happy to be above ground!!!
We can take personal responsibility for our happiness by pursuing personal and spiritual growth, involvement in community, practicing gratitude, enjoying the moment, and reframing negative thoughts.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis was asked if he was happy, and he responded: “Absolutely, absolutely. I am happy. I am happy because…I don’t know why...maybe because I have a job. I am not unemployed. I have a job, a job as shepherd! I am happy because I have found my path in life, and traveling down this path makes me happy. It’s a peaceful happiness, because the happiness of my age is not the same as the happiness of youth. There’s a certain inner pace, a vast peace, a happiness that comes with age. And although there are always problems along the path—even now there are problems—this happiness doesn’t go away. No, this happiness sees the problems, it endures them an then it moves on, it tries to resolve them and then moves on. But in the depths of my heart there is peace and happiness, because of God’s grace really. It’s God’s grace, not my merit.” ( Pope Francis: Happiness in This Life pg. 229-230)
One of the most significant aspects of happiness is cultivating strong relationships, and we have that opportunity each time we gather at Black Mountain, each time we pray for one another, each time we grieve together, each time we share our joys, each time we share a cup of coffee. We also have the opportunity to pursue a mutual sense of purpose as we seek ways to serve our larger community. As we provide loving social support to one another, we raise not only our level of faith, but our level of happiness.
So, my friends, let’s make up our minds to be happy people. Let’s let one another know that we are happy to see one another. Let’s let God know how grateful we are for the multitude of gifts that surround us. Let’s not complain about the heat, but give thanks that we have ice cubes and air conditioning. Let’s use all of our God given senses to appreciate the aromas, sounds, and sights that surround us. Let’s allow God to manage the world so that we can simply appreciate all the gifts God has given to us. So if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands. Amen.