When happiness doesn’t feel happy

We went to see Inside Out last night for my son’s birthday. We had read the reviews. The most valid concern I had read was that the movie seems to send the message that we are controlled by our emotions.  I did see that message come through, and it’s a dangerous one that has already been swallowed by far too many people who float through life, riding the waves of their emotions however they come.

But I don’t want to talk about the concerns here. I want to applaud the main theme of the movie.

Happiness doesn’t always have to feel happy.

I bet if you think really hard, it won’t take you long to come up with someone in the last few days that has said or posted something about pursuing happiness.

“I’m not happy and I just need to take some time to figure out what will make me happy.”

“My relationship with this person is dragging me down; I’m just going to let them go. I’m done.”

“I’m not happy in this church.”

“I’m not happy in this job.”

“I need to leave and and find a place, a job, a person that can help me be happy.”

As if happiness always had to feel good.

As if anything that feels bad or is hard must be bad and need to be eliminated.

If we admit it, we all think this way sometimes. I’ll be honest and admit that my floors will never pass an inspection because, frankly, I hate cleaning my floors so I just put it off until it’s just too bad to ignore. I’d surely be much happier if I didn’t have to clean those yucky floors.

Who among us wouldn’t like to always have circumstances that feel good?

In the movie, Joy absolutely freaks out anytime Sadness tries to touch any of Riley’s memories or current situations. And so many people do the same thing. And it seems like they get nothing but encouragement and pats on the back for being brave enough to stand up for their own happiness. Just look at the ESPN Courage award.

But true happiness weathers the sadness that is inevitable in life. True happiness goes sailing through the storms, knowing that the rainbow comes afterward.

This pattern of running from things that don’t feel good is particularly heartbreaking when it happens in marriages. Now, please note I’m not talking about cases of abuse or adultery or serious issues that warrant and necessitate counseling and/or separation or even divorce. I’m talking about things like “He works too much” or “He doesn’t make enough money” or “He doesn’t listen” or “He’s not the same man I married” or sometimes it’s just a vague unspecified case of being unhappy.

And so, she leaves. To go find what will make her happy. Because that’s the ultimate goal, right?

But what this mindset fails to see is the happiness that comes from persevering through things that aren’t happy.

My marriage has not been perfect. My husband is not perfect. I am not perfect. There have been seasons when he developed sinful patterns in the way he treated me. Those seasons were not particularly fun. They were hurtful. And there have been seasons when I developed sinful patterns in the way I treated him.

According to Joy’s standards, and the standards of so many people, I should have left him during those seasons. I was not particularly happy. There were days when I laughed all day with my children and cried myself to sleep at night in heartache over a marriage that wasn’t fulfilling my dreams.

I can write this now because those particular seasons are mercifully in our past, not our present. God has been so gracious to work in my husband’s heart and help him put to death the sins that were crippling our relationship. And He has worked in my heart to help me do the same.

And our relationship, after those storms and gale-force winds have raged and then died down, after the sun came back out, was standing on its foundation stronger than ever.

I firmly believe that there’s no way we would be where we are now without the unhappy times that we’ve come through. And it’s not just unhappiness between us. It’s unhappiness that came from outside the two of us. Losing our two babies days after finding out they existed. Saying goodbye to beloved family members. Going through periods of deep hurt in different churches. Grieving over the pain or difficulties or sin of people we love. Going through unhappiness together creates a bond that is stronger than any that could exist when everything has been sparkly unicorns and lollipops the whole time.

In the movie, Joy finally realized that Sadness has much to offer. To borrow from a Sara Groves song, there are different kinds of happy.

If we could all realize that, and instead of trying to immediately eliminate all sadness from our lives, we would find out the beauty that is happiness forged through the hard.

This entry was posted in Making Belief Practical, Spiritual Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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