In 2013, musician Pharrell Williams released what would quickly become a smash-hit single, “Happy”. Williams was asked to write a song for Despicable Me 2 (if you’re unfamiliar, there’s a 100% chance you’ve seen his “Minions” everywhere). The original Despicable Me told the story of a sour, always-in-a-bad-mood villain named Gru. His grumpiness was part of his charm. The second time around, Gru is much—well—happier. William’s upbeat “Happy” perfectly captures the poppy sound of sunshine.
While the song might give us a fun way to talk, sing—or even dance—about happiness, it doesn’t tell us where to find happiness. And with gloomy, gray, rainy days piling up, holiday plans looking bleak, and COVID fatigue growing, I’m sure we could all use some.
I for one intend to be happy over the next several days as I eat pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie is easily one of my favorite desserts, but it’s not the sort of thing people eat year-round. So Thanksgiving is the one time of year where I can unashamedly eat lots of it. But this sort of happiness is obviously fleeting. It can’t sustain me.
You will probably experience similar moments of happiness as well over the next day or two. They’re real. They’re wonderful. And then they’re gone, washed away by the sorrow of the loved ones you wish were sitting around your table. Suppressed by the heartache of a year gone horribly awry. Or—perhaps less dramatic but no less real—pushed away by the discomfort of a stomachache!
Everybody has felt happiness. We’ve all resonated in one way or another with Pharell’s “Happy” (whether or not you’ve ever heard the song!). But happiness tends to run out. And we’re left chasing happiness, hoping to hold on to that feeling of sunshine for more than a moment.
But what if happiness isn’t a matter of chasing down those elusive circumstances? What if happiness can be found in all of our emotions and experiences? What if happiness isn’t only found in a piece of pie, but in the less-than-fun process of making it and cleaning it up?
Pastor and professor Jonathan Pennington writes, “Life and happiness are found…in learning to embrace the fullness of life’s emotions and circumstances, dark and bright—through the virtue of hope.”
The hope is a particular Christian hope. It is hope in the resurrection, the new creation, living in the perfect rest of God our Father under the reign of Christ our King. It is a hope that looks past the gray skies and remembers that God will one day be our light, shining like the sun (Isaiah 60:19, Revelation 21:23). And so we smile. It is a hope that looks beyond the less crowded dinner table and sees a heavenly feast with all the household of God (Revelation 19:6–9). And we smile. It is a hope that looks beyond our very real heartache and sees our great and final Comforter (Psalm 147:3). And we smile.
We can always be happy, always rejoicing because “the LORD is good: his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). Skies are gray. Hearts hurt. But our God reigns. We may be sad now, but we’re living in a story with a happy ending.