by Karris Golden

A well-lived life includes difficult times. Each of us could make lists of horrible things we have endured. But I’m mad at myself when I give in to self-pity. Even in the worst times, I still have a lot of reasons to be happy. And I have learned that nothing productive comes from wallowing. Dwelling on the bad stuff is exhausting and pointless.

But refusing to have bad days doesn’t mean I put on blinders. It means I’m open to the day’s goodness and grateful for what troublesome aspects can teach me. So I choose happy. Even when I’m not feeling it and I make the choice to “fake it until I make it.”

The reverse is true of delighting in happiness. According to a Buddhist proverb, “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.” I find that statement freeing. To me it means that searching for happiness focuses on the destination, not the journey. Can I be happy if I’m always chasing after it? Happiness isn’t found or manufactured. It just is. If I decide to be happy, I will be.

When the sun shines

During a particularly difficult period, I took to my bed. I only bathed because I’m someone’s mom. (Somehow, I thought I could trick my wise daughter into believing I was fine if I didn’t stink.)

That lasted a week. No one would have blamed me if I had extended my languor to a month. Plenty of people said I had the right.

But did I? I’d been knocked down, but I could get up. The pain was just a moment in the long, happy life I envisioned.

The voice of Satchel Paige rang clear: “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” So I prayed—about the sun. I realized we pray for help with pain because it’s unusual, not constant. The reverse is true of happiness, which is why we take it for granted—why we forget to give thanks.

I prayed about my joy-giving daughter. I meditated on the season’s Christmas hymns and other favorites. I ran and prayed about those I love. I had no appetite, so I took solace in comfort movies: “The Lilies of the Field,” “The Fisher King” and “Ghostbusters.”

I also watched “White Christmas” repeatedly, having always loved its message: The more you focus on the good things, the better you’ll feel. Cliché? Sure. But I find it to be true. I listened to Bing Crosby and counted my blessings, because among the list of joys and sorrows in my life, my blessings column will always be much longer.

As a result, I now reflect daily on John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

In times of hunger, I feel the peace and happiness of Jesus Christ because I have known it. I have reflected on it. I have expressed thanks for it. In focusing the journey, I must accept I’m not going to be happy all the time. That’s OK. We sometimes believe it’s not—that sadness can cancel out happiness.

That may be because while we feel sadness profoundly, we tend to understand happiness in a superficial way. We’ll reflect on our sadness, but when we’re happy, we don’t stop and ask, “Why?” We don’t try to figure out what our happiness means, we just enjoy it.

What happiness is

When I dig deep, I realize happiness isn’t about money; it’s about comfort. It isn’t about success; it’s about satisfaction. It isn’t excitement; it’s gratitude. My happiness blends and aligns. It requires comfort, beauty, awe, appreciation and grace, among other things.

Discussion questions:

1. How do you define happiness? What makes you feel “happy”?

2. What are traits, habits, behaviors of happy people? Who are the people in your life who embody this example of “happy”?

3.  Describe an experience or time when you felt extremely happy. Before tonight, have you reflected on that feeling happiness — the feeling, cause, circumstances, the impact on you, etc.? If yes, what prompted you to reflect? If no, why do you believe you haven’t? What do you when you don’t feel happy?

Closing prayer:

Gracious Lord, Thank you for the gift of happiness. Let us seek your presence in thrilling moments of joy and hope—not just times brokenness, pain and heartache. Help us to recall Jesus’ blessing to each of us: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Guide us each to share happiness in ways that multiply this joy and reveal your grace.

Karris Golden is a financial industry project manager by day and writer-editor all the time. Her work appears in ELCA publications as well as mainstream websites, exhibits, books, newspapers and magazines. As a keynote presenter, she speaks on a range of topics, from faith and leadership to financial literacy and inclusion. Karris lives in northeastern Iowa and became an empty-nester in 2022 when her daughter, Zoey, left for college in Philadelphia.

A version of this article first appeared in the April 2012 issue of