“Women who have never married or had children are among the happiest and healthiest,” a recent article on The Hill boldly stated. As a woman who hasn’t married and doesn’t have children, I wondered, Does single equal happy?

The article highlights the direction some have shifted in their view of singleness: “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children,” the historical response has been, “‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’”

Yet, the article emphasizes an alternative response: “No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change … Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”

It goes on to quote Oprah Winfrey who believes she will “never have regrets about not marrying her longtime beau.” Since she has a longtime beau, I hardly think Oprah wonders if single equals happy.

Does single equal happy?

After mulling it over a bit, I’ve discovered that this idea of singleness as a path to happiness accomplishes a number of things.

On the positive side, people are finally recognizing and supporting the idea that marriage might not be the be all, end all this side of heaven. This is a newer and not always popular idea some singles adopted.

Realistically, a spouse will never make any of us consistently happy. Even in healthy, thriving marriages. Humans fail each other. We’re just human.

According to the article, some women’s motivation to remain single and childless is rooted in their fear of unhappiness. If what they have going as a single is working for them, why risk marring it with additional demanding relationships? They feel they’ve answered the question: Does single equal happy? I’ve heard this narrative from a few friends who truly enjoy their single life and question if change is worth their while.

The honesty in this article, though, reveals a deeper reality all of us face: When it comes down to it, we are mostly concerned with our own happiness. Our idea of what will make us happy often serves as the real master of our lives.

But should it?

Happiness is king

As a single woman, I often catch myself thinking I will be happier once I’m married. In some aspects, I’m not wrong. For the most part, companionship, hands down, trumps loneliness.

On the other hand, I often overlook many perks to being single. I can’t complain about the freedom to control my schedule and purchase whatever groceries I want. Regardless, I have learned that perhaps my focus on happiness needs to be redirected.

The “pursuit of happiness” is in our blood. In Western cultures, many of us have the freedom to choose the direction of our lives. We have the option to choose what job to pursue, what school to attend, and what relationship status we prefer. Happiness is king.

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The problem with happiness

Maybe you’ve noticed “happiness” is not a theme in Scripture. God is not opposed to His creatures being happy—in fact, God cares deeply for His children (1 Peter 5:7). But happiness ultimately isn’t the point.

The point is to please God, not ourselves.

Jesus first introduced this counter-cultural view. After reminding His followers their needs would be taken care of, Jesus invited them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:30-33).

Notice the order of His statement: first, seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Then all these things will be added to you. We can trust the Lord will supply our every need, yet we must first desire to make His name great in our lives. Because of this, any advice to make choices, relational or otherwise, based solely on happiness isn’t a reliable compass for our lives.

We must intentionally remember this. For instance, I am leading an internship program. On the back of our T-shirts, we’ve written, “My life is not my own.” Seeing our interns sport these words has kept them in the forefront of my mind. If I don’t keep the truth in my line of vision, whether through music, books, or visuals, it’s easy to sink back into happiness-is-king mode. It’s crucial to maintain my focus on God’s kingdom and not my own.

When happiness doesn’t work

But God is not a “Debbie Downer.” And He doesn’t want His children to be that either.  In the midst of living for His pleasure and not our own, we can find great joy.

Happiness is equivalent to pleasure, to feeling good, to wanting things to stay exactly as they are. It isn’t, however, something we can concoct at will.

Joy, on the other hand, is less associated with emotional pleasure, though not opposed to it. Joy has deeper roots than happiness, being tethered to unshakable truth. For instance, the knowledge that Jesus has rescued us from our sins gives us joy even in the midst of great suffering. Joy is something that has been secured for us.

The liberating truth about joy is that it is a choice. Despite the ugliness—or unhappiness—of your situation, you can always find joy because of the hope of the gospel.

That’s good news. Even when we try to control things like our relationship status, our number of children, or our dream career, our inability to dictate others and our circumstances keeps us from constant pleasure. Joy is always available; happiness is not.

Paul entreated the Christian church in Thessalonica to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Our interest in happiness is not altogether bad, but we misguide ourselves if we expect anything to continuously fuel our happiness: singleness, marriage, or anything else. Sorrow, pain, and loss are unavoidable because of the fallen world we live in.

If you find yourself wondering what will make you happy, consider asking the Lord first what would please Him. Comfort yourself with this truth: Even when you can’t find happiness, joy is always available.

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