When we were up in Michigan last week, there was a news magazine lying around at which I happened to glance. One of the articles was titled, "Do children make you happy?" The conclusion of the author, after looking at many studies that were conducted asking people, both with and without children, to rate their happiness, was that, no, indeed children do not make people happier than those without. I've been thinking about this, and I've decided that everyone is asking the wrong question. Happiness is such a fleeting thing and incredibly dependent on circumstance. Do my children make me happy when they are whining, or throwing up in the middle of the night, or waiting too long to get to the bathroom? No, I can honestly say that when any of them behaves poorly or when I must clean up bodily fluids, I am not happy. Sometimes I am about as far from happy as a person can get. I'm also not happy when one of my children is sick, or injured, or sad. How can I be happy when someone I love is hurting? This is not to say I am never happy, or more accurately, never happy because of my children. This would be untrue as well. But if we are just measuring happiness, that sun-is-shining-the-birds-are-singing-all-is-right-with-the-world feeling, and I am not happy about the above mentioned items, and you multiply those things by 7, by rights it would seem that not only should I never be happy, but I should be walking around with a huge cloud hanging over my head.
There is no cloud, and I don't think I'm an unusually sad and dour person. And why is that? It's because the question the researchers should have been asking goes more like this: Does having children make you more joyful, or fulfilled, or blessed, or any of those other words that have more to do with internal states rather than what's going on outside. And the answer to all would be a resounding, Yes! Because I can be joyful, if I choose, when I'm cleaning up bodily fluids, because while it may not be fun, I have a child after whom I need to clean up. I have someone to whom I can show love, both my love and a small example of God's love. I can be joyful because God gave this precious being into my care.
Happiness is fleeting and beyond my control. Happiness is not a choice that one makes; it is something that happens to one. Happiness is an emotional response to circumstances. And happiness is not the goal. Joy, on the other hand, is a state in which I can choose to live. Joy is not erased or destroyed by pain or suffering or tears. And ultimately, joy can only come from being connected to the true joy-giver, Jesus Christ. Because, it is only through Him that we know there is way more to life than just what's here on earth. This knowledge is what can enable us to choose joy when life isn't going like we think it should. Or as Anne Shirley would say, there is so much more 'scope for imagination' if we just look past our immediate circumstances and focus on our eternal circumstances. (Can you tell I'm reading Anne of Green Gables to A and P?)