If you took a poll of everyone on earth and asked them what they want out of life, a large percentage would say, “I just want to be happy.” That is not astounding in itself, but what is astounding is that only a small percentage of them are happy. You would think that with so many people seeking a specific goal, a large percentage of them would achieve it, but that is not the case with happiness.
Before we go further, we must note that “happiness” is different than “joy.” Biblically, there are two primary ways “joy” is used. It is used in the sense of the fruit of the spirit “joy,” the joy inside us from which we draw strength to continue. This joy is rooted in the knowledge that everything will be wonderful in the end: goodness will prevail; hunger, war, sickness, crime, and injustice will all come to an end; evil people will get the justice they deserve, and the saved will live in everlasting bliss. That good ending is guaranteed, so God commands us to rejoice, which comes from looking away from this life and mentally focusing on our glorious future.  The Bible records many instances of people rejoicing in difficult circumstances. Paul rejoiced in the midst of his affliction (2 Cor. 7:4) and Jesus drew strength from joy to endure the shame and pain of being crucified (Heb. 12:2). However, the Bible never says either of them was “happy” about what they were going through.
We need to know that biblically, “joy” can also refer to a feeling, an emotion that wells up within us when something wonderful happens to us. The Bible has many examples of that “feeling of joy,” the emotion that can accompany something good happening to us.  In this fallen world, however, it is not always possible to have such feelings of joy or happiness. For many people in difficult circumstances, inner joy derived from the hope of a better future is the best they can do. Thus, while God commands us to be joyful, as we saw above, there is no verse that commands us to be happy.
In spite of the fact that many people are living in dire circumstances in which it is unreasonable to expect them to be happy, many others could easily be happy (or certainly happier) if they did not do so much to make themselves miserable. Many people are neither sick nor in pain, persecuted nor enslaved, financially nor materially destitute, and in fact have many advantages in life, but are still unhappy.
Satan, the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4 KJV), is an expert in stealing the value from people’s lives so that they are unhappy. He does it in so many ways that the fields of self-help, psychology, and counseling are in large part dedicated to helping people help themselves to live life more graciously and positively. It is outside the scope of this short article to deal with the different problems people cause themselves that keep them from being happy in their day-to-day life, such as the hurt caused by alcohol or drug abuse, the pain caused by an uncontrolled temper, or the misery of living a life with no boundaries.
What I do want to cover in this article is the unhappiness people cause themselves by trying to be happy. Despite what the world around us propounds, God never designed happiness as a goal that we set out to achieve, like losing 20 pounds [9 kilograms], adding monthly to a retirement account, or learning more about computers. When we examine the Bible and ponder its teachings, we find no verse saying that happiness is a goal we should seek. What we learn from both the Bible and life is that happiness is a bi-product, the result of a godly life that is focused on obeying the Word of God and making wise decisions.
Happiness is like a house cat (I learned this from a book I read, but it was long ago and I cannot remember the title or author). If you make it your goal to have the cat sit on your lap when it is unwilling, you only end up frustrated, because it will run from you, hide from you, and even scratch you if you grab it and try to hold it. However, if you stop worrying about the cat and get about productive life in the house, then the cat shows up, rubs itself against your leg, and jumps up on your lap when you sit down for a break.
If we try to design our lives to be happy, it seems that no matter what we do we are not happy. We get upset when life makes demands on our time; we are discontented with what we own, and want newer or better stuff; we become overly concerned or even worried about our image, finances, or interpersonal relations. Even if we go on vacation, we cannot seem to relax (or the opposite happens, we get bored because we are not “having fun”). On the other hand, if we forget about our happiness and focus on God and His will for our lives, such as loving and serving others, we may notice at some point that we are not unhappy. In fact, we may notice that we are very content with our lives and are actually happy.
We cannot just “be happy” because God did not design us to just “be happy.” God designed us to be content in our godly work, not just content, period. When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, He designed them for meaningful activity, and told them to “…work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). That productive work would fill their lives (which were supposed to last a looooooong time, as in forever), and keep them content and blessed. Think about it. If anyone could have been “just happy” anywhere, it would have been in the Garden of Eden. But God did not say to Adam and Eve, “OK, you’re in Eden, now go and be happy.” No, He told them to go work, knowing that if they did they would be happy.
Because God designed us to get enjoyment out of productive work, it is no wonder the Devil has mounted such an aggressive campaign against work (when is the last time you heard a positive comment about work on a television sitcom?) and instead promotes “just having fun,” “chilling out,” “kicking back,” etc. Abandoning the wisdom of godly work and service is a sure-fire recipe for unhappiness. Of course, if a person has never learned to work, it may not be enjoyable at first, but since God designed us to do godly work and service, even those who never have learned how to enjoy it will quickly find themselves being content, yes, even happy and fulfilled, in godly work and service to others.
So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot….
Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.
Even the New Testament tells us that we were created “to do good works” (Eph. 2:10), and when we focus on that, we will find that we are indeed happy.
We live in a time and culture that has placed a special emphasis on being happy and enjoying life. But the Devil subtly promotes the lie that no matter how much one does, or has, it is never quite enough to be truly happy. Multitudes of corporations spend billions of dollars on advertising to call our attention to what we lack—and they are effective. So now we are unhappy or uncomfortable when our clothes, though certainly adequate for what clothing is supposed to do, are a little worn, have a small spot on them, or are “out of style.” Though our car runs well, if it is somewhat rusty, or lacks new conveniences that supposedly make our lives easier and “more fun,” we are dissatisfied with it. We are not content with the furniture in our house, even though it is comfortable and safe, because of the way it looks. And so our lives go, until in general we are unhappy and discontented.
The Satanic system in which we live changes styles, models, and colors every year, even if they do not need to be changed. But that is not the worst part. The worst part is that the system then works very hard to make us feel inadequate if we do not keep up. Eventually people “buy in” to the pressure, and then it’s not just the television or magazine ads that create a feeling of discontent, but family members, friends, and neighbors who make comments about how we look, what we drive, etc. The Satanic vice squeezes us from both ends: we are tricked into thinking happiness is a proper goal, and yet what we have is never good enough to make us happy. Then we make unwise decisions, like spending money we do not have (usually via credit cards), supposedly so that our lives will be easier and we will be happier. But that backfires too, and people soon find that debt creates its own pressures and unhappiness.
Is there a way out of the cycle of unhappiness and discontentment? Sure there is, but not in “the system.” The Bible tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” (Rom. 12:2). In The Message,  Eugene Peterson renders it as, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture….” While it may not be practical to completely divorce ourselves from the cultural system we live in, we actually can do so to a large extent.
A lot of people’s unhappiness and discontent is due to not using wisdom in their decisions, as Scripture repeatedly exhorts us to do.
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
We Christians need to use wisdom in all aspects of our lives, starting with what we hold in our minds and think about, and then how we spend our lives and our money. Often we make unwise choices that land us in unhappy circumstances or unhappiness in general, when we should have taken God’s advice and used wisdom. Part of wisdom is realizing that the Devil is creating a system that fosters covetousness, i.e., passionately wanting things we do not have. Both the Devil and God know that coveting is a formula for unhappiness and even a first step to crime, so the Devil promotes it, while God gave one of the Ten Commandments to help us avoid it, summarized as “You shall not covet” (Exod. 20:17; Deut. 5:21). Much of the advertising we see is specifically designed to make us dissatisfied with what we have and to covet what we do not have. Jesus reminded us to guard ourselves against covetousness, because contentment in life does not depend on what we own.
Luke 12:15 (ESV) 
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Actually, having a lot of “stuff” to take care of can hurt us. It can complicate our lives, rob us of valuable time, and distract us from God and service to others.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,
Some people would find themselves much happier if they would simplify their lives. Others need to learn to stop coveting. Some need to learn to make wise choices with their time and money, and still others need to learn the joy of service rather than the heartache and unhappiness of self-service. The book of Timothy contains a simple truth:
1 Timothy 6:6
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
Godliness with contentment is great gain, great profit, and we will achieve it when we live God’s way. Let’s not be fooled into thinking that happiness is a viable goal in life, and that having “better stuff” will actually get us there. If we follow God’s way, living a disciplined life based on wisdom and serving others before ourselves, we will find that, if we ever get around to thinking about it, that we are indeed happy.
 God’s commands for Christians to rejoice include Philippians 3:1, 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16, in which “rejoice” is in the imperative mood in the Greek text, which makes it a command.
 Examples include Matthew 2:10, 13:44; Luke 15:7, 24:52; John 16:21; Acts 12:14; 2 Corinthians 7:13 (KJV); 2 Timothy 1:4; Philemon 1:7; and 3 John 1:4.
 Scripture quotations marked (The Message) are taken from The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
 Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.