All of us, for better or for worse, experience the holidays each year. From mid-November to early January, our lives change, bringing many delightful things, but also stress and fatigue. Family tensions (whose house do we go to when?), never-ending to-do lists, financial difficulties, unrealistic expectations—reasons for unhappiness abound.
Is it possible to find genuine happiness during the Christmas season, even in the midst of the pressures? Yes. True happiness—the kind Jesus offers—is at the heart of what Christmas is all about!
Consider the angel’s message to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). The Greek adjective translated “great” here is megas—this isn’t just news, but good news of “mega-joy.” It’s the best news there has ever been or ever will be.
What characterizes this good news is deep, everlasting joy for those who receive it. The Contemporary English Version renders the verse this way: “good news for you, which will make everyone happy.”
Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness” (ESV). Here God tells us directly that our mission is bringing everyone the “good news of happiness” about Jesus. .
If the message we share and model at Christmastime and all year long doesn’t include happiness, then it contradicts God’s direct words in Isaiah 52:7. The gospel offers an exchange of misery-generating sin for happiness-giving righteousness provided by Jesus himself—joy incarnate, happiness in human flesh. The gospel is happy-making!
Each stanza of “O Come All Ye faithful” contains sentiments of true happiness: “joyful and triumphant,” “sing in exultation,” “born this happy morning.” Joy, exultation, and happiness are proper responses to Jesus. A gospel not characterized by overwhelming gladness isn’t the gospel. A Christmas without a deep, God-given happiness isn’t reflecting the good news of Jesus.
So how do we experience true happiness during this season? It starts with a godly perspective, a right way of looking at life.
An Eternal Perspective
A reconciled relationship with God, coupled with an understanding of the biblical teaching of a resurrected Heaven and Earth, assures us utter happiness will be ours forever. This happiness will be fully realized in the promised culmination of God’s redemptive plan, in the New Heaven and New Earth.
For various reasons, Christmas can be a difficult season for many people. Yet God comforts his people in suffering, saying, “Look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth!” (Isaiah 65:17, NET). What should be our response to this promise? God uses joy-drenched words to describe this New Earth, a place where his people will bring happiness not only to each other but also to him:
Be happy and rejoice forevermore over what I am about to create! For look, I am ready to create Jerusalem to be a source of joy, and her people to be a source of happiness. Jerusalem will bring me joy, and my people will bring me happiness. The sound of weeping or cries of sorrow will never be heard in her again. Isaiah 65:18-19, NET
The forever that awaits us should color our lives now. We should daily frontload eternity’s joys into our present experience by focusing on Christ and anticipating the Heaven that awaits us.
Right Expectations about Life and Suffering
This same eternal perspective will help us adjust our expectations about life under the Curse, especially during the holidays. A biblical worldview is supremely optimistic and joyful, but it also recognizes the present reality of a fallen world.
By lowering our expectations that all should go our way presently, and raising our expectations of eternal life, we can experience true happiness now. Considering the judgment we deserve, every happiness, small or large, is an undeserved gift—the grace of God. When we experience happiness now, we’re grateful; when we don’t, we know someday our happiness will be complete and never-ending.
God doesn’t say we’ll never have hardship or suffering—he specifically promises we will (John 16:33). We’re not to be surprised when we face difficulties, even around Christmastime. Whether it’s something as insignificant as a burnt turkey or as overwhelming as the loss of a loved one, God tells us: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). If we expect God to make our lives easy, our expectations are unbiblical.
As Christians, we’ll be delivered from eternal suffering. Even now, God will give us happy foretastes of living in his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). That’s his promise. And what better time to focus on living in his presence than Christmastime?
Our outlook is changed when we remember that our afflictions are Father-filtered by the God who knows all, governs all, and sovereignly weaves all together for our good: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The more we grow in our understanding of God’s sovereign grace and loyal love, the happier we become. We don’t have an all-powerful God who doesn’t care; neither do we have a caring God who is powerless to make good things happen. We serve a Creator who loves us and is sovereign over the universe, including all evil.
Our circumstances do matter. Broken relationships can be felt more deeply at Christmastime. Expectations about gifts received or given can bring anxiety. Comparing how others celebrate Christmas can bring sadness, especially if we feel left out. But all circumstances are opportunities for growth and our ultimate good. When they threaten to overwhelm us, these difficulties remind us to look to our Rock and Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
This is also an encouraging message for those who feel lonely around the holidays, and wish their lives weren’t less busy, but more. Even if not many friends and loved ones are nearby, Christ promises he will be with people always (Matthew 28:20), and will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Acting on the Right Perspective
We can control our thoughts and attitudes. They’re not foreign invaders against which we are helpless.
Paul said, “Fix your thoughts on what is true. . . . Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT). This doesn’t happen automatically. But once we develop the habit and experience its rewards, we instinctively turn our minds to what makes us happy in Christ.
Of course, we should never flippantly say, “Happiness is a choice.” It’s not always easy to choose happiness in Christ. Embracing happiness is not merely working harder to pull up our minds and moods, as we would our bootstraps. Rather, it’s gratefully receiving God’s grace and happiness.
God provides everything we need to be happy, and empowers us through his Spirit to believe in him and obey. At the same time, he leaves it to us to adopt a right perspective and make the choices that result in happiness. God empowers us through his Spirit to believe in him and obey him. He also calls upon us to genuinely cooperate with him, which requires our effort as we draw on his strength and grace (Philippians 2:12-13).
Happiness from Gratitude Coupled with Humble Service
When life is viewed with a spirit of thankfulness, we’ll see the reasons for happiness that surround us. God gives us hundreds of reasons to be grateful every hour—ask him to open your eyes to them, especially during what should be a joyful season of celebrating Christ’s birth! Developing the discipline of gratitude brings greater praise to God and greater happiness for ourselves. When life’s tough, we can still be grateful that God is with us and that he’s using it for our good.
No matter your circumstances this Christmas, there’s happiness to be found in being grateful for God’s provision, and seeking to serve and help others. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Cultivating Christ-Centered Holiday Happiness
Happiness comes naturally in the same sense that fruit comes naturally from a tree. If the tree gets sufficient sunshine and water, if the ground is nutrient-rich, then yes, it “naturally” produces fruit. Yet the joy spoken of in Galatians 5:22 is also the supernatural fruit of the Spirit who indwells God’s children. We must plant ourselves in the rich soil of God’s Word, soak in the living water of God and his people, and bask in the radiant sunlight of his grace.
Then happiness will come (super)naturally—happiness made possible by our God who became a man, who suffered, died and rose again so we could experience substantial happiness now, as well as ultimate and unending happiness in our eternal home.
Learn more in Randy's book Happiness.
This article also appears in the November/December 2015 issue of More to Life magazine.