It’s likely not marked on your calendar, and you’ve probably never heard of it—but March 20 is the International Day of Happiness. (And no, it wasn’t invented by Hallmark!)
The day was started in 2012 when all 193 United Nations member states adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority. Not only is happiness a worldwide concept, but the English word happiness is one of the most familiar and desirable ones on the planet. The synonyms for happiness in any language are on the short-list of the most popular and appealing terms.
As I researched my book Happiness, I first heard of this, and began to wonder: what would it look like if evangelical churches led the way in annually participating in the International Day of Happiness, by celebrating the good news of happiness that Isaiah 52:7 talks about?
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Both the NASB and the ESV, two of the most literal translations, render the Hebrew here as “good news of happiness.” The immediate context of Isaiah 52-53 is messianic, and this good news of happiness is exactly the same “good news of great joy” the angel spoke of to the shepherds after the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:10).
What an opportunity the International Day of Happiness could be to tell each other and the world about the happiness of God and the happiness Christ came to bring to all the nations! Wouldn’t it be refreshing for Christians to make positive remarks about happiness and direct people toward the happy God they desperately need to know? (I’m not talking about contrived happiness as a pretense or strategy for church growth, but the genuine happiness that naturally flows from God and the gospel.)
I think such celebrations would make a powerful statement that we value true God-honoring and Christ-exalting happiness, and so does God, who went to great lengths to secure our eternal happiness in Him.
And imagine the potential for changing the popular image of the church. How much different it would be if people looked less at the church as a group of always critical, always complaining, always feeling persecuted bunch of curmudgeons!
Instead of backing away from happiness or trying to correct those who love the word happiness (which almost everyone does, except some inside the church), we should embrace it, realizing that Jesus is inseparable from true and ultimate happiness.
If only today’s church could grasp what God’s people have always known and, instead of fighting happiness, embrace it as a partner in preaching the good news of great joy.
Paul expressed his astonishment that the Galatian Christians were “turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one” (Galatians 1:6-7). The phrasing is significant—he was saying they distorted the gospel and it was therefore no longer the gospel at all. Their gospel was human centered and burdensome and misery making, not Christ centered and freedom giving and happy making. A gospel not dominated start to finish with the grace of Jesus is an unhappy gospel. And there’s no such thing, since gospel means “good news.”
The Pharisees twisted biblical truth to make their own system of rules and regulations. They were quick to criticize and condemn, and looked like they’d been sucking lemons all day. They were the Bible-believing conservatives of their day, but they drained the joy out of belief in God, and failed to live in the celebratory mood of the great feasts and parties that are spoken of throughout the Old Testament. They condemned Jesus as a drunk and a glutton because He went to parties that were fun and entertaining.
Do we really wish to distance the gospel and church from happiness? If we succeed, we’ll inevitably distance them from both our children and the world, for everyone will go right on wanting happiness. Christians shouldn’t abandon happiness—we should embrace happiness, the true happiness Scripture freely offers through God’s persistent and everlasting love:
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12, emphasis added)
So, what might celebrating the International Day of Happiness look like in your church? Perhaps it would mean putting on a party or a carnival, and inviting the local community. Think of the refreshment that weary, burdened, guilt-ridden people would enjoy if your church put on a celebration of biblical proportions, with great food and drink and music and laughter and fun, just to say, “We love you, Lord Jesus, and we love this community, and we’re here to celebrate the gift of happiness that comes from you!”
Such a celebration could provide the opportunity to share the truth that as sinners in rebellion against the happy God who made us, we’re separated from happiness because we’re separated from its source. But the staggeringly good news is that by trusting Christ’s redemptive work for us, we can enter into a relationship with God. In doing so, we can enter into what we long for: the happiness found only in God.
Since March 20 is right around the corner, if your church isn’t able to pull together a formal celebration this year, you can put it on the calendar for 2017 and start to make plans now. And as individuals, we certainly can open our homes through hospitality and our lives through service on March 20, in order to share Christ’s love and happiness with those in our neighborhoods and communities.
And while we’re at it, what about celebrating October 4, “Saint Francis of Assisi Day,” with churches inviting the community to celebrate animals in a way that’s God honoring? Don’t let PETA and others with a naturalistic worldview put an exclusive claim on valuing animals. God values them and so should we! People love their pets, and churches could open their grounds and invite people to bring their pets (okay, maybe you could start with dogs then figure out the logistics for cats, rabbits, gerbils, and reptiles in future years).
This could be a fun, joyful and powerful outreach to people who otherwise would never connect with a church. Surely, regardless of our varying political persuasions, Christians should agree that the God who created the world and placed it under our management expects us to show gratitude and respect for the animals He entrusted to our care in Genesis 1-2.
Wouldn’t it be great if children growing up in Christian homes looked forward to additional God-centered holidays—ones they could invite their unbelieving friends to join? Wouldn’t it be fitting if church was known as the place that celebrates more than the world, rather than less? Worship, camaraderie, and unity would be hallmarks of such events. But one of the greatest payoffs would be reestablishing followers of Jesus as people of profound happiness who are quick to celebrate the greatness, goodness, love, grace, and happiness of our God.
God’s people ought to say, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry to celebrate the time when we’ll eat, drink, and be merry in a world without suffering and without end!”
Were we to do more of this kind of celebrating, and do it better, surely fewer of our children, and the next generation, would fall for the enemy’s deadly lie—that the gospel of Jesus doesn’t offer happiness and that people must go elsewhere to find it.
I love what theologian Robert Hotchkins wrote: “Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to celebrations of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the sheer pleasure there is in being a Christian.”[i]
May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful. (Psalm 68:3, NIV)
[i] Robert Hotchkins, as quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 271.
Cupcakes photo credit: Sheelah Brennan / Dog photo credit: Nomao Saeki, both via Unsplash