The Right to Choose
by: Mike Stokes
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Of course these are the words in the first sentence of the famous preamble to, The Declaration of Independence. It is our “unalienable right,” to pursue happiness. One might ask, why, after 235 years of progress, we have made so little headway in capturing this elusive prize? Perhaps the answer lies in the one word “Pursue.” To pursue something suggest it is outside of us, somewhere out-there, needing to be discovered or caught. Many of us were raised to believe joy and happiness means the same thing. Actually, they are not synonymous terms, they are two different words with different meanings. One is a choice the other a pursuit.
Happiness depends on the circumstances you are experiencing. The word itself comes from the same root word as “happening.” It means that something good has happened to me, therefore, I am happy. So, happiness is always based on the circumstances, or happenings. Circumstances allow happiness, and it can also make it dissolve into thin air.
On the other hand, joy, is not affected by, nor does it depend on circumstances, joy in reality can defy circumstances. It does not depend on ones social standing, mental capacity, economic situation, educational background, race or sex. Joy is really a gift that is optional, not mandatory nor impossible for one who has little reason for joy. Even many Christians are caught on the American dream treadmill of pursuing happiness. If only I had this or that, which means our eyes are on the horizon still searching, waiting for our ship to come in so we can be happy.
Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way.” If we persue happiness instead of choosing joy, we will become as Frankl put it, “Playthings of circumstances.” On the other hand, if we exercise our right to choose our attitude, we can choose joy in the midst of the cruelest circumstances.
However, it is not enough to simply say, “I choose joy.” To choose joy means we set our minds on the kind of things specifically listed in (Philippians 4: 8): “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” To use a metaphor, think of the mind as a bank account, that regularity receives deposits. By depositing the kind of thoughts in verse eight, we build up and draw on a rich account that yields a high dividend called, joy.