I live within a whole cultural value system where what “makes us happy” can actually cause wholesale harm to someone else. Did owning slaves and prospering from their free labor make slave owners happy in the South? They would say it did. Again, we’ll say that this is an obvious case of one person’s happiness coming at too high (and the unwilling) cost to another. But, at the time there was rather universal agreement that this arrangement made everyone (who mattered) happy. Are there no cases today when we say something makes us happy that 100 years from now we’ll look back horrified at our callous blindness to the harm we caused others?
Finally, we’re to clap along if “that’s what we wanna do.” This gets to the question of desire. I’ve made too many decisions on the basis of my “feel like” in the moment, rather than living out of the truest and deepest desires God has put within me. The other day, I saw a tweet float that said, “If you don’t feel like it, why would you do it?” It makes me think of Ignatius of Loyola’s metaphor of the “tail of the serpent.” It’s a metaphor he uses to talk about the beginning (head), middle (body) and end (tail) of a particular choice. If a desire and decision begin well, proceed well and end with good fruit, that is likely a Spirit-given experience. But the “tail of the serpent” is when a desire and decision begins with great promise, proceeds with some level of pleasure or “happiness,” but ends with regret, sadness, or guilt.
When I think about so many celebrity marriages that fail to last, I wonder if this is about that inevitable moment when one partner no longer “feels like” being married. Couples quit rather than finding a reason to continue to work through. It took Gem and I far longer than most couples to hit places where we didn’t always “feel like” being married anymore. We’ve invested a lot of time and money in personal and relational therapy to find our way to places of deep blessedness together, maturing our love for one another. The kind of happiness this song recommends is unlikely to ever mature beyond the “feel like” and then “don’t feel like” stage of love, and that saddens me.
All of this points up what I’m learning about the difference between the kind “happy” this catchy song is talking about from the kind of “happy” that Jesus speaks of in what we now call the Beatitudes. The first of each one is sometimes translated “blessed” and sometimes even “happy.” The sort of blessedness Jesus speaks of works not only for those with plenty, but for the poor as well. We can find ourselves blessed even in mourning and loss places. It’s deeper and better rooted than situational happiness.
I hope this doesn’t sound to others like sour grapes, or like I’m trying to bring the roof back down on their room. I’m not. I just know that substantial happiness has usually come to me via a path that began with discipline. The writer of Hebrews says that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:11 NIV).” True goodness (rightness) and peace are such a graced place of well-being and freedom. It’s a sustainable rather than fleeting happiness.