Happy New Year! I will say it to every person I speak to today. What kind of a greeting is it? Is it a declaration? Do people think it will be a happy year? Is it an imperative? “Have a happy New Year!” Are people encouraging me to have a happy new year? Or are people just wishing that this might be the case? Do we have any control over whether or not 2014 will be a happy year?
My standard response to questions concerning happiness is that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is conditional upon what happens in our lives. (Hence the derivation of the word!) It is an emotional response to people and events.
We have little control over what happens in 2014. I have no control over the economy or national or international events. I have limited control over my health. I have no control over what other people will say to me or do to me. I have no control over what accidents may occur.
I have little or no control over what happens. So if happiness depends on what happens, then people might as well wish me a warmer than average year.
Joy, on the other hand is unconditional. It is not a response to what happens. It can be experienced in all circumstances. I could use other words to describe it. Contentment, peace, and bliss are words that are often used. The apostle wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He said, "Rejoice in the Lord always!"
Joy (peace, contentment, bliss) is unconditional because it is always present. Happiness comes and goes. Joy is. We can know joy even when we are not happy. Joy is not an emotion. Joy is not a positive response to what happens. It is not seeing things in a positive light rather than a negative light. It is not the power of positive thinking.
Joy is sharing the eternal presence of God, which is beneath everything that happens. God remains the same in all circumstances of life. Joy is living in God, being in the world but not of the world.
How do we experience this joy? It is as simple as redirecting one’s attention. When something happens, we immediately have a choice. Emotions will immediately (and involuntarily) arise within us in response to an event. We can unconsciously hop onto this roller coaster of emotion or not. We can be carried away by the happiness or sadness train, and it will take us to all sorts of unexpected emotional states.
Or we can take a moment to be aware of what is happening. To be consciously present is all it takes to access joy. We can put a little space between us and the emotional-physical event occurring. Watch it for a moment. No suppressing of emotions. No attempt to control emotions or the circumstances. Let the emotions come. Just observe them.
When we step back, we are immediately aware of the presence of One who is not subject to the fluctuations of this life. We are aware of being in a place of perfect peace and rest, which is untouched by the physical or emotional worlds. We have stepped into the realm of Spirit.
God resides as Holy Spirit in the seat of the soul. We can live here “seated with Christ in the heavenly places.” Jesus called it the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul called it “living in the Spirit” and “walking in the Spirit.” It is joy which flows from the unconditional love of God.
We will still feel happy and sad when things happen. The spiritual life is not an emotionally detached life. In fact we experience emotions more fully because we are not fighting them or being controlled by them. It adds a new dimension of life – a spiritual dimension, the dimension of joy, peace, and love. So I suggest that you not have a happy new year. Have a joyful new year!