There is a stand-up comedian who does a bit about people trying to “one-up” each other. He said he would love to be at a party with people like that if he were one of the 12 men who has walked on the moon.
“I cruised the Mediterranean Sea,” one person might brag. “Have you ever been on the Mediterranean?”
“No,” he would reply. “But I did walk on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon.”
“Last year, I raced the Indianapolis 500,” another person might say. “Have you ever driven an Indy car?”
“No,” he would reply. “But I have driven a lunar rover on the moon.”
No one could one-up the man who has walked on the moon. It is probably the zenith of all human experience, and only the best of the best were chosen for those few lunar landings. I imagine they were filled with happiness and glee as they landed on the surface and drove the lunar rover and even smacked a golf ball across untouched territory with the Earth above them in the lunar sky.
Many who have gone into or beyond low-Earth orbit have described the sense of wonder they experienced looking back at Earth, which should have taught them a valuable lesson about why human beings exist. Yet some of those few who have gone to the moon have experienced something else that can teach us a lesson.
In his book Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin described what Pete Conrad and Alan Bean experienced during their return flight home from the moon: “Along with the immense feelings of elation and satisfaction, there was something else, something else Conrad hadn’t expected. After seven years of eating, sleeping, breathing Apollo, [Conrad] had finally had his mission and it had been perfect, and now, just like that, it was all over. The flying had been brief, but challenging, the sights had been the most spectacular of his life. And yet, going to the Moon wasn’t what Conrad had expected. Yes, it was spectacular, but it wasn’t … momentous. He was quite surprised when Alan Bean turned to him and said, as if he could read his mind, ‘It’s kind of like the song: ‘Is That All There Is?’”
Is that all there is? Why would a man having an experience like this feel something like that? These men were happy when they were selected to go to the moon. They were happy to train, excited to be shot at 24,000 miles per hour out of Earth’s atmosphere and into space, happy to coast to the moon at 3,300 mph, and happy to land and cavort in the dust of the moon, where they could watch the Earth rise and set. Yet only hours later, while still experiencing the pinnacle of spaceflight in an Apollo command rocketing toward Earth, they actually experienced a melancholy feeling: Is that all there is?
Why? Because they needed more than just happiness.
Every human being on this planet and in its orbit is seeking happiness. “I just want to be happy,” we say. That seems like a decent goal. Obviously, it is good to be happy. But we need to learn not to make happiness the goal of our existence. If “I just want to be happy” is your goal in life, you are aiming too low.
“Happy” means feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your situation. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces its history to middle-English and the word hap, which means “chance.” The word originates from one being “lucky” or “favored by fortune. … From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for ‘happy’ at first meant ‘lucky.’”
If good things happen to you, you are happy. If bad things happen to you, you are unhappy.
Maybe you happen to find a ten-dollar bill you lost. Chancing upon it makes you happy. A few hours later, that happiness has faded. Maybe you make important decisions based on the goal of happiness. You meet a great girl or guy in high school and you want to date. You think this person will make you happy. They almost certainly will. But they will also certainly make you unhappy. Maybe you get a scholarship and attend a big university. It makes you happy. But it also makes you unhappy. The same is true if you buy the car or truck of your dreams.
Chance comes and goes. Happenstance comes and goes. Fortune comes and goes. And so does happiness! You can have an extremely happy experience, but it won’t be long before something happens to cause those very same things that once made you happy then make you unhappy. As you are sitting in that dorm room wearing that college shirt or driving that F-250, that feeling will come: Is that all there is?
Happiness is temporary. It is based on here and now. It is based on the present circumstances.
Do not set your goal to be happy. Set your goal to be filled with joy.
The King James Bible mentions “happy,” “happiness,” “haply,” and similar words 33 times. I counted more than 450 mentions of “joy,” “joyfulness,” etc. The Bible defines “joy” in many different ways. In Galatians 5:22, it is listed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy …” meaning cheerfulness, calm delight, great gladness, exceeding joy. This indicates something deeper—something unwavering, confident, calm and cheerful.
Joy is a fruit, and a fruit is something that is produced. Galatians 5:22 shows that joy doesn’t spring from pleasant things happening to a person. It instead comes from God’s Spirit working with or in your mind.
“Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you,” Jesus Christ said (Luke 6:22), “and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the son of man’s sake.” When such things happen to me or to you, we are not going to be happy! No one whistles a tune and smiles broadly when others are hating you. Yet Christ said, “Rejoice ye in that day and leap for joy …” (verse 23). When unhappy and even dreadful things happen to you, you can have joy!
If you experience a trial, be it with your friends, family, missed opportunities, financial problems, health problems or other difficulties, you lack happiness. But James 1:2 states that we should count them all joy.
Happiness is based on impulse, emotion, the surface, the happenstance. Joy is based on what you think, what you believe, what you know from submitting to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. It is based on the big picture.
Joy is a fruit produced by the Spirit, and in Acts 5:32, God says He gives His Spirit to those who obey. That is His goal for you and, later, for all mankind. Jesus Christ commands us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Isaiah prophesied that in the Kingdom of God, people will have upon their heads everlasting joy (Isaiah 35:10).
Aim for something much higher in your life than inconstant, shallow, frivolous, fleeting happiness. Aim for filling your life with joy! Ask God to influence you with His Holy Spirit working with you. You will still experience happiness and unhappiness, but that won’t be all there is. Through it all, for the rest of your physical life and beyond, you will have at your core an unstoppable, glowing, growing fruit of joy.
Change your motivation from seeking happiness to seeking joy. To find it and achieve it, turn to God, ask Him to lead you by His Spirit working with you, believe Him and obey Him. You too will have an everlasting joy—both in the Kingdom of God and right now. Being filled with the gift of joy you will never have to ask: Is that all there is?