Does God want us to be happy? It’s a legitimate question. In the U.S., happiness (or the pursuit of it) is hardwired into our founding documents. From the beginning, happiness has been up there with values like life and liberty. Pretty lofty stuff.

But have you ever thought about all of the dumb things you’ve done in pursuit of happiness? When Melissa and I were newlyweds, I convinced myself that a $100 telescope would ramp up my happiness quotient. At that point in our marriage, a hundred bucks was a lot of money and dropping a Benjamin on a telescope wasn’t exactly a wise investment.

No surprise, the telescope didn’t make me any happier. In fact, based on Melissa’s reaction and the arguments it created, the telescope actually made my life measurably less happy.

The Problem with Happiness

Most of us define happiness according to our own, personal set of criteria, and then wallow in a mentality of “if-only.” If only I had a different spouse. If only I had a more money. If only I had a telescope. But when we pursue our “if-onlys”, we usually end up creating more problems for ourselves.

When we relate to God, we bring our underlying dissatisfaction and our long list of “if onlys” with us. After all, if God really does love us as much as he says he does, then he wants us to be happy. And since my happiness depends on a better job or a better relationship or a better bank account (or a telescope), then God should give me the things I want.

We place the burden for this thing we call happiness on God’s shoulders, and when he doesn’t deliver the way we want him to deliver, we get frustrated.

Happiness and the Beatitudes

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus describes what God’s version of happiness looks like. It’s a familiar passage that’s commonly called the Beatitudes.

In most translations, the Beatitudes begin with the word “blessed.” But some versions translate the word as “happy” — and that’s appropriate, because the word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin word for “happiness.”

In the Beatitudes, Jesus turns everything we think we know about life upside down. He says you should be happy:

  • When you’re at the end of your rope.
  • When you’re struggling with a loss.
  • When you feel powerless or insignificant.
  • When people turn against you.

Jesus challenges us to understand that we won’t find happiness in the things we think will make us happy. We won’t find it at the mall. We won’t find it in an affair. When we’re disgruntled, dissatisfied and discontent, we find happiness when we recognize that we’ve reached the end of ourselves.

So, Does God Want Us to Be Happy or Not?

Does God want us to be happy? Absolutely. But for God, happiness comes from an awareness of our own spiritual poverty. A sampling of Beatitudes shows that when we recognize our insufficiency, we allow God and his gifts to take center stage:

Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

When we embrace the spiritual poverty described in the Beatitudes, we free ourselves from the burden of carrying around the illusion of happiness — an illusion constructed of telescopes and all of the other misguided things we do because they think will improve our lives.

By shedding the illusion of happiness, we find true happiness and the freedom we need to live fully in the moment. In some ways, it’s the freedom to feel like a child again. Footloose and fancy-free, without a care in the world because we have nothing left to lose and nothing left to prove.

The seeds of happiness are inside you. Embrace your spiritual poverty and watch them grow.