The same thing that we do with 'fear,' we also do with 'happy' - any good feeling that we have is happiness. It must be; happiness is a good feeling.
Of course, we run into the same problem here that we ran into with fear, and that is that we are missing out on a dynamic range of human experiences when the only word we have for a good feeling is 'happiness.' We'll get to that in a minute.
But what most troubles me about 'happiness' is that happiness is an entirely self-centered feeling. It finds its roots only in our recognition of an internal goodness. We subjectively feel happy because we subjectively feel good inside of ourselves. To this end, what they say is correct - that happiness is a choice. We simply choose to feel happy. Happy is, at its core, all about us.
In contrast, so many of the things that masquerade as 'happiness' in our limited emotional vocabulary are actually much richer, deeper experiences that exist externally, that are dependent upon more than what we feel of them.
You might feel 'happy,' for example, when you actually feel 'blessed.' Rather than being based in just what you feel, blessed is a posture of receiving. You are not blessed just because you are; you are blessed only when someone or something else blesses you. It's not all about you, and so blessedness invites you to connect to your community and your surroundings and your experiences more than happiness ever could.
Or maybe when you say you feel 'happy,' what you really feel is 'satisfied' or 'content.' Both of these words are a reflection on an embrace of our circumstances. In order to feel either, we have to be in touch with our needs, our wants, and our provisions and understand them in context. Satisfaction and content only exist in deep connection to our own lives, to everything in them, and not merely internally, the way that happiness does.
Sometimes, we say we are 'happy' when what we really are is thankful. We are full of gratitude. This is usually connected in some way to the previous two positive emotions - blessedness and satisfaction - but again, it's a recognition that something external to ourselves has impacted our lives in some way. Something that does not depend upon us has come to bear on us, and it's been positive for us.
This is a great place to put a little more skin on this. When we mislabel our thankfulness or gratitude as mere 'happiness,' what we do is retreat into the gift that we've been given and enjoy whatever it is that we're thankful for. It's a kid who finally receives the video game system he's always wanted and immediately starts playing it and doesn't turn around until it's time to go to bed (and then, only in protest). He doesn't even remember to say thank you.
Happiness keeps us from saying thank you. It turns us in on ourselves, focuses us only on what we're getting out of an experience or a gift or an event. But if we recognize that what we feel is not really happiness, but thankfulness, then our first response is to turn outward and to say thank you. To recognize someone or something else who has made an impact on our lives. To connect with someone or something and not just wrap ourselves in our own self-involvement.
This is precisely why I hate happiness; it's so cheap. It's so shallow. It robs us of the rich experience of truly enjoying being human and being in community and being God's. Happiness is...lame. It's too easy. And it requires us to disconnect ourselves from too much.
Thankfully, very few of us actually experience true happiness. What we're actually experiencing is something much greater, though we too often lack the words for it. And that brings me to the final piece of emotional language that we're going to talk about this week: joy.
We'll talk about joy tomorrow.