From happiness expert and Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland.
According to ancient thought, happiness is a life well lived, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness and goodness. For the ancients, the happy life — the life we should dream about — is a life of virtue and character. Not only did Plato, Aristotle, the Church Fathers and medieval theologians embrace this definition, but Moses, Solomon and (most importantly) Jesus did, too. Sadly their understanding is widely displaced by the contemporary understanding of happiness defined as pleasure and satisfaction, a subjective emotional state associated with fleeting, egocentric feelings.
Consider the differences:
Contemporary Understanding Classical Understanding Happiness is: Happiness is: 1. Pleasure and satisfaction 1. Virtue and character 2. An intense feeling 2. A settled tone 3. Dependent on external circumstances 3. Depends on internal state; springs from within 4. Transitory and fleeting 4. Fixed and stable 5. Addictive and enslaving 5. Empowering and liberating 6. Irrelevant to one’s identity, doesn’t color the rest of life and creates false/empty self 6. Integrated with one’s identity, colors rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self 7. Achieved by self-absorbed narcissism; success produces a celebrity 7. Achieved by self-denying apprenticeship to Jesus; success produces a hero
How can we be certain Jesus is inviting us to a classical understanding of happiness in Matthew 16:24-26? He isn’t talking about going to heaven rather than hell, nor is He telling his followers how to avoid premature death. Where Matthew writes, “what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul” (emphasis added), Luke clarifies Jesus’ teaching by replacing “his soul” with the word “himself” (Luke 9:25). The issue is finding one’s self vs. losing one’s self. More specifically, to find one’s self is to find out how life ought to look like and learn to live that way; it’s to become like Jesus, with character that manifests the fruit of the Spirit and the radical nature of Kingdom living; it’s to find out God’s purposes for one’s life and to fulfill those purposes in a Christ-honoring way.
I like that “success produces a hero”. Who doesn’t want to be a hero? I certainly do.
In one of his lectures, Dr. Moreland says, and I quote: “Happiness is the freedom to do what we ought to do”. That’s right. When a person is free to comply with God’s design for human flourishing, then he/she is happy. My biggest source of unhappiness is the feeling that I cannot be who I want to be as a Christian. It’s getting even worse when I think about how the government is now using force to prevent me from spending what I earn the way I want, and saying what I want about the issues of the day, regardless of who is offended. I am becoming increasingly thankful for the time I spend with other dedicated Christians. That’s when I can be myself and not worry about what anyone is going to think of me. This is no small source of happiness.