Do we choose happiness?

Dan Dick writes about the way our happiness is our decision.

Among those who self-report contentment, happiness and satisfaction — as well as those identified as happy or content by others — an overwhelming percentage (between 80-90%) report making a conscious decision to be happy, positive, and joyful.  The source of contentment for the truly content is internal, not external — they do not expect the world to bend over backwards to make them happy; true happiness comes from within.

Dick argues in his post that our happiness is a choice. It is up to us. It is something we decide.

Perhaps it is because I’ve been reading John Wesley’s sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, but I found myself wondering how these claims impacted our reading of the beattitudes:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.

“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

“Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.

“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.

“Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.

“Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.

“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

“Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you. (MT 5: 3-12, CEB)

Dick seems to me to be arguing that the order of Jesus’ words are inverted. He argues that if I choose to be happy, if I make a decision to be happy, then I will have peace and joy. I’m not sure Dick would extend this to saying that choosing to be happy makes me humble and merciful, and hungry for righteousness.

But there do seem to be some important theological issues at stake here. Is happiness a choice I make that bears fruit in holy dispositions? Or does cultivating the holy dispositions — mercy, purity of heart, peace, humility, etc. — make me happy? (These questions also are in some tension with my post yesterday about dependence on God.)

I suspect part of the distinction that needs to be made here is the definition of happiness. Dick is using self-reports. Are you happy? Wesley interprets happiness as holiness. He argues that there is no real happiness that is distinct from holiness. I suspect a lot of people in America who self-report as happy would not necessarily embrace a Christian definition of holiness of heart and life as the meaning of happiness. So, these two voices might be talking past each other.

What do you think?

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