I recently had a few hard days that turned into a few hard weeks. No monumental tragedy or hardship occurred. I just felt discouraged and restless and dissatisfied. As I looked inward to evaluate what I was feeling, this thought broke through: I’m just not happy.
I immediately felt a check in my spirit. We live in a world where individual happiness is touted to be of utmost importance. Even the U.S. Declaration of Independence assures us: “[All men] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Media and entertainment normalize making decisions based solely on personal happiness. When we’re unhappy — the world tells us — it’s a signal that something’s gone wrong and we need to change direction. We break up relationships, change careers, change churches, and go into debt buying things we think will make us happy. In short, we run from unhappiness instead of facing it.
Scripture tells us personal happiness isn’t our top priority as Christians; loving God and others and sharing the gospel is. Conversely, personal unhappiness doesn’t signal that we’re not in God’s will or that our life has gone terribly wrong. Let’s consider a few truths about unhappiness.
Feelings of unhappiness are natural.
We all experience unhappiness. Every one of us is at times sad or grieved or melancholy. Depending on factors like circumstances, personality and even physiology, some of us may indulge those feelings more than others or have a harder time shaking negative emotions.
Reading through the book of Psalms, it seems that David was a person who frequently experienced negative emotions. In Psalm 43:5 he accurately describes these feelings: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”
Many of us can relate to the feeling of turmoil in our souls. Sometimes life is hard, and discouragement sets in. I love how David quickly jumps to the solution in the second half of the verse: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” In times of unhappiness, God and His salvation remain our hope. In “Joy Elusive,” I wrote:
“Each time I find myself in the doldrums, I consider how much time I have spent with my Savior. Soaking in His Word. Listening for His voice. Joining other believers in worshiping Him. Oftentimes when I lack joy, I haven’t been seeking out His presence.”
Time spent with the Lord in His Word and soaking in His presence is a powerful antidote to unhappiness. When I experience negative emotions, I can find solace in my relationship with Him and the fact that He is unchangingly loving and gracious.
Emotions can be misleading.
The older I get, the more distrusting I have become of my emotions. Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This flies in the face of society’s advice to “follow your heart” or “chase your bliss.” Just as feelings of happiness can be fleeting, feelings of unhappiness can also pass. When I’m confronted with unhappy feelings, I need to take them before the Lord and ask for wisdom before jumping to any drastic conclusions.
Emotions can be an indication of deeper issues that may require professional help. In his article “5 Signs That It’s Time to Look for a Counselor,” Danny Huerta writes:
“The first sign to watch out for is a wholesale shift in your overall mood and perspective. If you find yourself feeling angry or sad all the time, and if this isn’t consistent with your usual temperament or normal everyday outlook on life, it’s time to ask yourself some serious questions about the reasons for this change. Mood shifts of this nature can signal all kinds of problems. Among other things, they may be a reaction to overwhelming stress or anxiety.”
Unhappiness can often be helped through practical solutions.
Along with the spiritual solutions of prayer and trust in God, addressing negative emotions can be simpler than we think. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah wins a major spiritual victory when he defeats the prophets of Baal. In the next chapter we find him running for his life and telling the Lord he wants to die. What a difference a day can make!
In 1 Kings 19:5-6 we read, “And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.”
The prophet was revived and went on a 40-day journey. I recently heard someone say: “Never underestimate the spiritual power of a nap and a snack.” Exercise, sunshine, and good company are also powerful combatants to negative emotions.
Rejecting the lie.
On the day those stealthy words — I’m just not happy — flooded my brain, I recognized them as a lie. Sure, I didn’t feel happy in that moment — my soul was downcast — but I knew I didn’t have to stay there. My feelings were normal, but I didn’t have to give them control. I sought out a friend and told her how I was feeling. We prayed together. I asked the Lord to help me take every thought captive in obedience to Him. I took a walk outdoors. I drank a milkshake.
And when I woke up the next morning, I felt much better.
Copyright 2022 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.