Are you happy?

“Are you happy?”

That’s a loaded question—one that my father has been asking me (bless his heart!) since I moved back to Chicago. I guess my introverted nature presents as unhappiness. Maybe he thinks I’m unhappy because I left Washington, D.C. to be with him. Maybe he thinks I am lonely or bored.

I began to ponder what it truly means to be happy. What is happiness? Is there a universal concept of happiness? What does it look like? Our culture is obsessed with being happy. We search high and low in hot pursuit of this elusive “happiness.” I love the Crunk Feminist Collective’s analysis of the privileged nature of happiness and happy endings:

“In our capitalist culture we learn that happiness means owning material things, having material worth, being in a traditional relationship, and feeling like you are worth something. It seems like we are always working towards happiness as the reward for hard work, patience, and endurance (sometimes suffering).  We never think about how happiness is a commodity that is bought and sold to us if we are gullible enough to think it can be contained and owned and held for longer than the moments we achieve it.  Companies offer us happiness in a bottle if you can afford it.  If you don’t have the money then you have to settle for hand-me-down happiness, whatever is left over after the well runs dry.  Some folk go broke trying to get to happy”

After reading that, I can’t think the same way about happiness. I can no longer buy into the hype. Instead, I focus on challenging myself, pursuing my purpose with my God-given talents and counting my blessings among other things.

So when my father asks me if I’m happy, I say no. I’m not happy…I’m content. I’m no Bible scholar, but I always refer to what Paul says about being content:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. —Philippians 4:11-12 

Like Paul, I’m learning to be content whatever the circumstances. That doesn’t mean I don’t strive for excellence, but it does mean maintaining a good attitude despite what is going on in my life. Sometimes it’s about enduring through the painful moments, but still finding the strength to face another day. And other times it’s about celebrating what I like to call the “small victories” in life.

 Life is unpredictable, but it’s also short. I don’t want to spend it in pursuit of a fleeting and deceptive emotion as happiness. I want to live the life that I’ve been given and make the best of it. 

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