Debunking the Myth of Happiness

“You will be happier once you’re a Christian.”

This is a seemingly great way to convince people, especially children, that God loves them and it therefore makes sense to change their life for Him. You’re promising a future filled with happiness and joy and unicorns and rainbows and 1-Up Mushrooms? Sign me up.

The reality is, yes, life might be better in the sense that you are living for a larger purpose and you have found hope and a future in a relationship with Christ, but God doesn’t promise life will be easier or happier when we follow Him. In fact, the Bible says just the opposite; we will face tribulation (John 16:33), walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), and experience temptation (James 1:2). We are warned, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Actually, I dare to say that if you aren’t experiencing difficulties in your life following God, you’re probably doing something wrong!

These promises of Power Flowers can be detrimental to someone who is just learning what it means to follow God. Once they realize that adjusting their lives to God’s standards is actually difficult and this whole religion thing isn’t fun anymore, those promises of happiness disappear. If we don’t have a firm foundation of what being a Christian actually means and realize that happiness is not the point, our determination to follow Christ will shatter.

I forget that fact a lot; I forget that happiness isn’t the purpose of my life. I forget it when I’m running late and the driver ahead of me is traveling at five miles per hour. I forget it when someone makes a rude comment on one of my articles. I forget it when I’m feeling lonely.

I just want to feel good. Most of my day-to-day decisions revolve around that desire. When I feel hungry, I eat something. When I feel sick, I take medication or sleep. When I feel sad, I play a video game to distract myself or talk to a friend to cheer me up. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those actions. I’m not a masochist, and I don’t recommend that lifestyle to anyone. To be a stable, caring person, I need to take care of myself.

But it’s when I focus on a lack of happiness as a reason to doubt God’s love for me that there is a problem.

“Our common tendency is to habitually begin with the internal, the subjective, the experiential, then use those feelings and impressions to determine what we’ll accept as being objective fact. We let our feelings tell us what’s true, instead of letting the truth transform our feelings,” C.J. Mahaney writes in Living the Cross Centered Life.

I don’t think most of us realize how centered around feelings we are. Every day, we make decisions and evaluate our circumstances based on how we feel at the time. Plus, our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and do whatever feels good because we deserve it. We are amazing and wonderful, and we deserve happiness (often in the form of a new hair care product or prime rib sandwich or shiny SUV or whatever that billboard on the side of the street is trying to sell us).

Well, sorry, culture, but we don’t deserve happiness. We’re human beings who lie and cheat and steal and fight and hold grudges and hurt our loved ones, and we don’t actually deserve anything. I strive to be a good, caring person, but I still make mistakes and end up hurting people. However, God gives us the opportunity for a beautiful, pain-free future with Him because of this amazing thing called grace.

And that’s why the second half of those verses I mentioned earlier are filled with hope. Though we face trials and tribulations, God promises us peace because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Though we walk through dark valleys, God is with us and comforts us (Psalm 23:4). Though we experience temptation, God gives us wisdom, hope, and helps us grow in faith and perseverance through our trials (James 1).

He doesn’t promise us happiness, but there are more important things in life than feeling good, things God can offer us that no one else can. There will always be suffering here, and though God doesn’t take it away in this life, He can help me find peace through it and learn from it; and sometimes He’s just there for me to yell at when it hurts. His promise to us is more substantial than happiness.

About the Author

Allison Barron

Hailing from the cold reaches of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Allison is the general manager of Geekdom House, executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is usually preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.