Who or What Is Our Primary Source of Happiness?

Happiness can’t be bigger than its source. God is primary; all other forms of happiness—relationships, created things, and material pleasures—are secondary. If we don’t consciously see God as their source, these secondary things intended for enjoyment can master us.

Things such as winning a game, a promotion, or a contest; or taking a new job or a vacation are too small to bring big happiness. God, on the other hand, “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). We’re finite and fallen, and we lack what’s required for happiness. All those who look within themselves for pleasures and delight are doomed to misery. We just aren’t big enough and good enough to supply the happiness we crave!

Christ-followers enjoy what God provides first and foremost because they enjoy the God who provides them. Unlike us, God is infinite and without flaws. Secondary things bring some joy, but God alone is our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) wrote, “It is the infinite Godhead that must allay the sharpness of your hunger after happiness, otherwise there shall still be a want of satisfaction to your desires.”

Secondary things are not incidental or unimportant— they’re God’s gifts to draw us to Him—so we should never disdain the created world. But by putting God first and His creation second, the world and its beauties become instruments of joy and worship. We love them better when we love God more than them.

Why do we watch the World Series or the Olympics? Why do we go to the Grand Canyon, the Alps, or the ocean? Why do we want to get near bigness and beauty and magnificence? Because we find happiness in beholding what’s greater than ourselves. It’s what we’re made for: an infinitely great, happy-making God.

When an atheist enjoys the cool breeze of a sunny autumn day as he writes his treatise on God’s nonexistence, the source of his pleasure is God. For God is the author of the universe itself: the Earth, cool breezes, sunny days, the atheist made in God’s image, the physical sensations that give the capacity to enjoy nature, and even the powers of rational thought the atheist uses to argue against God.

One of the keys to enjoying life is connecting the dots between our happiness and God as its provider, as well as between our happiness and God’s own happiness. When I run with my dog or look at Jupiter dominating the sky over Mount Hood, I experience happiness. Unbelievers are capable of enjoying happiness in exactly the same things, but their happiness can’t be as immense or enduring, because they stop short of recognizing the one whose overflowing reservoir of happiness has spilled over into His creation.

This helps us understand what Asaph says in Psalm 73: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (verse 25). Is Asaph saying he doesn’t desire food, water, clothes, shelter, friendship, and laughter? No. He’s saying, in essence, “Of the many things I desire, at the core of all of them is God Himself. Therefore, all that I desire is summed up in God alone.”

As I write this, I’m looking up from my computer at a photo I took underwater. It reminds me of the sheer delight of my unforgettable ninety-minute encounter with a wonderful monk seal I named Molly.

Whenever I look at Molly’s photo, my heart fills with joyful memories and longing for the New Earth’s joy and the days that await us. That anticipation gives me a harvest of happiness today. Of course, many people who don’t know God love to snorkel and dive. They’re truly moved by the enchanting beauty of the reef.

But an immense part of my happiness as I snorkel is knowing God, the primary, who made all these secondary wonders. I sense His presence with me—both when I’m out in His ocean and as I sit in my home remembering His nearness, both then and now. This is a shared experience between my God and me, and even as I type, the memories of countless hours spent in the water together with Him, enjoying His beautiful underwater kingdom, bring joyful tears to my eyes. The beautiful coral reef and its wondrous creatures don’t draw me away from God—they draw me to Him. But if I were to worship them and not the God who made them, I would not only displease Him, I would diminish and ruin them.

In the movie The Avengers, Thor’s brother, the evil Loki, weary of the Incredible Hulk, says to him in a commanding voice, “Enough! . . . I am a god, you dull creature!” The Hulk, unimpressed, picks up Loki with one hand and gives him a merciless thrashing, pounding him into the ground. As he walks away, the Hulk turns back toward Loki, looking disgusted, and mutters, “Puny god.” Loki, utterly defeated, gives a pathetic little squeak.

All idols are not only false gods but also puny gods. The very gifts of God that can bring us great joy become dismally small when we make them primary. Only the true God is big enough to bear the weight of all our happiness, and the larger we see Him, the bigger our happiness in Him.

In the mid-1600s, Puritan John Gibbon said, “God alone is enough, but without him, nothing [is enough] for thy happiness.” Whether or not we’re conscious of it, since God is the fountainhead of happiness, the search for happiness is always the search for God.

Excerpted from Randy's book 60 Days of Happiness

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries