The Habit of Being Happy

My quest to learn the mysterious secret of contented living

“The habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or largely freed, from the domination of outward conditions.” Robert Louis Stevenson

I came to a startling realization the other day. I had been trying to figure out what was gnawing at me; what nameless, faceless fear was trying to seep in around the edges of my consciousness. It seemed logical enough that I should be worried about concrete things – after all, I do have some things to be concerned about right now. Job pressures, financial pressures…the usual stuff that comes up for a business owner. But, honestly, I’m not all that worried about them this time around. I’ve been in enough tight situations to know that God always swoops in to save the day at the last minute. Disaster is always, albeit temporarily, averted.

So what was I afraid of? Then it hit me:  I was afraid of depression. I was afraid I would have a “relapse” and fall back into a previous pattern of despondency and lack of faith. I really struggled with this in 2010 and somewhat in early 2011, and I was afraid that the progress I’ve made in my soul would be lost. I was also afraid that fear/depression would make me compromise, would make me give up on or lose sight of my dreams and my vision for where I’m going in my life. That I would get so caught up in the perceived wrongness of now that I would forget the rightness of what might happen next.

I took a walk yesterday. I hiked up into the hills above Lake Ralphine, and it was shimmering and glistening in the afternoon sunlight. It didn’t feel at all like January – it was almost like a spring day. (Thank you California weather!) After a while spent on the trail, I glanced over a small rock wall and noticed the most beautiful little meadow on the side of the hill: a green carpet of grass surrounded by a ring of oak and fir trees with streams of light falling gently out of the sky.

I hopped over nature’s fence and sat myself down in the midst of the meadow. All was quiet except for the faint rustling of trees in the wind and the occasional muffled voice coming from the trail nearby. And that’s when it occurred to me: I was happy. I pulled out my journal (aka Day One on my iPad), and this is what I wrote:

It’s so peaceful here. I feel connected to God and the earth. I feel like anything is possible and I have nothing to worry about. I want to carry this feeling with me all the time, and never forget.

Never forget. This is my pledge to myself this season of life: to cultivate the habit of being happy, as Stevenson said. I don’t want to be dominated by outward conditions; to the contrary, I want to dominate them. So I will endeavor to do anything and everything necessary to forge this habit within me. I recall the words of the Apostle Paul in Phillipians 4:11-13:

“For I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

The “secret of living” Paul describes here carries in the original Greek the connotation of being a mystery. So this is not something you can learn overnight or by reading a few trendy books on the subject. It is a life-long pursuit of spiritual discipline and discovery. The key to unlocking this mystery however in found in the last verse in this passage: I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

May Christ give you strength, dear reader, as you join me on this incredible voyage of learning the mystery of contentedness, how to cultivate the habit of being happy.

Jared White