What is true Happiness
, where does it come from, and how do we find it? According to the Christian Scriptures, true happiness begins and ends with God. In the beginning, God’s Trinitarian happiness overflowed into a universe of delights. In the gospel, God gladly owned our poverty and misery in order to make us happy again in him. Now, by his Spirit, God himself dwells within his people, sharing his happiness freely and causing us to rejoice in him.
We asked professor and seminary president Scott Swain to tackle a theology of happiness in the first of a series of feature articles by scholars for pastors, leaders, and teachers. You can download and print a PDF of the article, as well as listen to an audio recording.
The Eudaimonia Machine is a work environment designed for what Cal Newport calls “deep work,” the state of undistracted, focused attention in which human beings are able to operate to the full extent of their creative capacities.1 This work environment “takes its name from the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia (a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential).”2 Though the Eudaimonia Machine exists only in the mind of its architect, David Dewane, not yet in reality, it rests upon a valid insight. There is a relationship between our environment and our well-being. There are both objective and subjective dimensions to human flourishing, eudaimonia.
The Eudaimonia Machine also reveals that there are competing conceptions of human flourishing. While the Eudaimonia Machine suggests that human flourishing or happiness consists in productivity, others have argued that happiness consists in the possession of external goods such as wealth, honor, and fame, or that it consists in the possession of internal goods such as physical health or virtue.3 As Aristotle observed, the pursuit of happiness is unavoidable, but its character is not undisputed.
The phenomenon of happiness is disputed because our perception of happiness is both limited (due to our finitude) and liable to distortion (due to our fallenness). We disagree about whether happiness exists — is it truly achievable, or is it just a mirage? We disagree about what happiness is — does it lie in riches, wisdom, power, pleasure, fame? And we disagree about howhappiness may be achieved — should we pursue the American Dream or audition for American Idol?
What Is True Happiness?
Christian theology enters the fray surrounding human flourishing and seeks to expound what God has disclosed about this topic in his word. In response to the question of whether happiness exists, Christian theology confesses that happiness exists, first, in “the happy God” (1 Timothy 1:11)4 and, second, in creatures designed and destined for happiness in communion with the happy God (Psalm 144:15). In response to the question regarding what happiness is, Christian theology confesses that happiness consists in possessing, knowing, and enjoying the supreme and unsurpassable good, God himself, the blessed Trinity. “I have no good apart from you,” the psalmist declares (Psalm 16:2). “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And in response to the question of how happiness may be achieved, Christian theology confesses that divine happiness communicates itself to us, freely and abundantly, through the Mediator of happiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11; 17:13, 24–26).
In Jesus Christ, eternal, unchanging, and unsurpassable beatitude5 shines upon us and welcomes us into its all-satisfying presence. For now we enjoy a taste of this happiness on the pilgrim path of faith and repentance. One day we will drink fully and deeply from the infinite ocean of beatitude when we behold the triune God in the unmediated splendor of his personal presence, “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:1–5). This is our “happy hope” (Titus 2:13): that the God who dwells in unapproachable light and unlimited delight will also dwell with us (Isaiah 57:15–19; 1 Timothy 6:16), that God will be our happy inheritance, our happy habitation (Psalm 16:5–6), and that we will flourish in his presence to his eternal glory (Psalm 1:3;Isaiah 33:24; 61:3).
What follows is an account of happiness from a theological perspective.6 We will address the topic of happiness by considering various elements within the order of beatitude — that order of happiness that begins in and with God, that freely flows from God in the creation, redemption, and consummation of creatures, and that returns to and rests in God.
Happiness Begins in God
A Christian account of happiness begins with the blessed Trinity, the primary form of happiness in the universe and the principle from and to which all other forms of happiness flow. As God is the supreme good (Mark 10:18), to be extolled above all by all at all times in all places (Psalm 145:1–3, 21), so also is he the supreme beatitude, “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).
Along with divine perfection and divine glory, divine beatitude is a summative attribute. A summative attribute is not simply one attribute among others, but instead an attribute that characterizes all of God’s attributes. God’s wisdom, goodness, and power are perfect wisdom, perfect goodness, and perfect power. God’s wisdom, goodness, and power are, furthermore, glorious and beautiful. God’s wisdom, goodness, and power are therefore objects of God’s supremebeatitude, delight, and satisfaction. Divine perfection refers to the fullness of God’s being, the infinite riches of his wisdom, goodness, and power (Romans 11:33; Ephesians 2:4, 7; 3:8, 18–20). Divine glory refers to the beauty of God’s being, the utter clarity and intelligibility of God’s radiant life (Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 1:5). Divine beatitude, in turn, presupposes both divine perfection and divine glory.7 Divine beatitude refers to the satisfaction of God as he reposes in, rests in, and rejoices in the beauty of his perfect being. The blessed Trinity “dwells” in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:15–16). The Father rests in his radiant Son in the Spirit (Matthew 3:16–17) and, by the Spirit, the Son rejoices in the glory of the Father (Luke 10:21). Divine beatitude is “the happy land of the Trinity,”8 where, suffering no lack, the blessed Trinity reposes in the fullness of his luminous life.
God’s beatitude is simple.9
Nothing “makes” God happy. God does not “have” happiness. “God is happiness by his essence.”10
He is happy because he is who he is (Exodus 3:14). God’s beatitude is eternal. “The glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11) is the glory of “the King of the ages” (1 Timothy 1:17), the glory of one who lacks beginning and end. God’s beatitude is immutable. Nothing can increase God’s happiness, and nothing can take it away (Job 22:2–3;