Lately, I’ve been meditating a lot on happiness and what role it should have in my life. On the depression spectrum, I suffer from dysthymia, which is essentially chronic depression. Because of this, I carry this propensity to badly prioritize and sometimes even hyper-focus on happiness since there is often times a lack thereof. I can settle into a state of unrest when I see how much harder it is for me to experience happiness when joy is all around me in the faces and hearts of my children and husband. I struggle with feeling ungrateful, like a bad parent, or like I'm some kind of pseudo-Christian or hypocrite because I struggle with happiness as a whole, when I should feel eternally joyful.
The lie I am susceptible to believing because of my struggle, is that everyone is happy except me. It's simply a misappropriation of my feelings. When I look around I see a culture that is ravenously seeking to be filled with joy and contentment, often at their own expense. Our culture puts so much emphasis on doing what lights up our pleasure centers. Our nose in further rubbed in this philosophy when it says to look inside of ourselves for the answers, to do what feels right to us individually, and to rid ourselves of the things (and people) who no longer serve us. While we are all created for and need to experience the rawness of beauty, chasing our own happiness is quite a different beast.
There is a bit of wisdom I have found in the holy scriptures that caution us about our indulgences. It says that while everything is permissible, not everything is profitable. Just because we can do something, certainly doesn’t mean that we should. Our focus should never be on happiness alone because we will never come to the end of ourselves or our hunger. When we feed desire alone, we reach for the thing that brings us a relative amount of ease, and ease doesn’t promote growth. I spent so many years of my life snowballing bad decisions that seemed so "right" at the time, only to realize that I was suffocating beneath the burial of my choices. You see, I didn’t stop to weigh the freedom that my choices would bring, I thought only of my own fulfillment.
Our hearts are a war. No matter your spiritual proclivities, we can all agree on that. There is a common thread in religion that unifies, and its that we are fallen, degraded, and incomplete. So if the desires of self exist within us, how can we "follow our heart" and not expect it to lead to destruction?!
The next part of this same scripture speaks of not seeking our own good, but on the well-being of others. Our freedom doesn't exist to satisfy our every whim, but to fulfill our spirit by serving others in love. It is this very freedom that allows us to deny ourselves and to think of others instead. This is all very much contrary to what our culture feeds us, and the polar opposite of what our hearts crave, yet it's the very thing that frees us and gives us the ability to appropriate happiness into our lives. It amazes me to look back at my life and to compare the years of self-fulfillment to the more current years of self-denial. I am much happier now than I ever was then. I'm not turning to anything but the God who formed me with his hands and breath, and ignoring the darkness of my heart that threatens to wage war against me.
Over the past few months, I have come to a place in my questioning, where I accept my struggles. Not that I live in doubt that God can bring me to a deeper healing of the events that pushed me into depression, but that I can feel content regardless of where I'm at in this very moment. Happiness is subjective and temporal and fleeting. So I will no longer bargain for or feel defeated by the lack of happiness I have because that will only further sink me. I'm learning to be content surrendering myself one moment, one decision at a time, to a God who sees the larger picture, who nudges me past happiness (at times) towards a more lasting way, and that is the way of freedom. I'm learning to take the moments that come easy, and to burst with gratitude over them. In the moments that are darker, I hang on to the knowledge that God is with me, that he's present, and he's enabling me to even stand in the times I feel I cannot. I am trusting that the more ground I gain with freedom, that the happiness with surely follow.