Happiness is a Virtue
I have friends arriving at my house in five minutes, and I’m lying on my brown couch staring at the ceiling fan above me.
It’s been a long day.
This busy life of mine is my own choosing, and I’m not complaining.
But I need five minutes of peace more than my friends need a perfectly clean counter or all the strewn, unopened, probably important but ignored mail on my table put into neat piles.
And here, lying still instead of touching up the concealer on the tired circles under my eyes with multiple tasks undone, I realize that I’m happy.
I’m actually happy.
The sound of the ceiling fan, the chime of the trolley at the stop a block from my front door, the feel of my hands sticking to warm leather, and the magic of being bones and blood and skin make me happy.
And I’m amazed.
I have a complicated relationship with happiness. As a long-term chronic shame sufferer and recovering “deeply broken” sinner, I’ve only recently accepted the idea of happiness as a legitimate option for my life.
I’m not exactly sure where it started. There was the lecture at camp in high school about how “fun” wasn’t in the Bible, so we probably shouldn’t focus on it so much. There were the messages in junior high about needing to “redeem the time,” because we were living in the evil days, also known as the Clinton Administration.
There was the picture that stands out so vividly from my fourth grade AWANA book, with the stick figures escaping across a cross-shaped bridge to heaven while the flames of hell leapt for them. There was the reality that by the time I was ten, I was second in a lineup of six kids, desperate to be picked out. There was the anxiety of the Rapture and Apocalypse night terrors I was having from the time I was losing my top row of baby teeth.
Maybe it doesn’t even really matter where I mark the blame. But regardless, being good and saved was far more important than being happy when I was growing up. Happiness was discouraged, or weak, or even profoundly ungodly.
Without happiness on the table, I reached for control. I lived the idea that happiness would come when I was perfectly good, and perfectly saved, and everyone else was too.
Ask me sometime how that worked out.
I used to believe that chasing happiness would lead me to a sinful reliance on temporal things instead of redemption. I saw happiness as insecure and couldn’t even see it when it arrived, because I was too busy panicking over not counting on it.
But as I’m growing up these past few years, as my faith and wonder and worship of a mysterious and known God expands, I’m realizing that happiness is not wrong. Happiness is not idolatry or dangerous. Happiness is not a slippery bridge to hell.
Happiness is important.
Happiness is life.
Happiness gets me home.
Happiness rarely shows up when you get exactly what you want, when you want it, and are totally in control. If you have those moments, celebrate the heck out of them.
I’m practicing at the presence required for that.
But I’m also cupping handfuls of happiness in small things. I’m noticing the sparks light up my bones and chasing them down and marking them into my highly scheduled days. I’m letting myself actually enjoy my world and the people in it.
I refuse to hold on any longer to a belief that I am completely depraved, that I was made to suffer and sneak moments of pleasure in piety alone, or feel ashamed when something silly or imperfect captures my fancy.
Instead, I take the longer route home from work so I can drive up over the highest bridge around. There’s a stretch at the top where the high chain link stops and all that separates me from sky and water is a three foot high concrete barrier. From there I can see the whole city lounging over both sides of the river, the marina full of boats tucked into their houses, and sometimes a glimpse of Mt. St. Helens.
Even when it’s raining on that bridge, I roll down my window and stretch out my arm, feeling the pressure of my hand flying through open space.
It scares me a little bit to be so high and so free. But it also marks that I am a whole, very much alive person crossing that bridge, not just a stick figure running from flames.
It just makes me happy.
Originally published at A Deeper Story.