on happiness

My mom sent me a quote this morning as I sat in a coffee shop journaling.

“Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s not important I’m in a coffee shop (btw here‘s how I feel about coffee) but I only mention it so I can brag about getting the most dreamy table. It’s in a hidden little corner with an outlet nearby and lots of natural light. And the icing on the cake is the only people in here right now are older folks, not young adults my age who make me nervous because they’re so cool.

The important detail is the one about me journaling when my mom sent me the quote and what it was I was journaling about.

Jesus showed up in the coffee shop while I was reading and prompted me to make a list of what it is I actually want and think will make me happy.

So was it a coincidence? Well, maybe. But I certainly saw enough of a connection to starting writing.

Recently I’ve been processing potential life changes big and small (before anyone reads this into that comment: we are NOT having a baby now or in the near future) and at the same time wondering if I’m selfish for wanting this or that and everything to come together in a certain way.

Before we move on, I guess you should know two things about me:

(1) I’m very prone to guilt.

(2) I just want to be good. I want to know what is truly good and I want to do it.

I was talking to God about it the other night. God told me it’s not bad to be happy or to want to be happy. Why would there be a whole spectrum of emotions if we weren’t supposed to feel?

“Okay, okay. I get it,” I said, “It’s natural to want to be happy, blah blah.” I went on to try to explain I want the right things to make me happy. I don’t want a self-centered happiness. I don’t want to be greedy or live too inward or turn a blind eye to the aching of the world. I don’t know what that looks like though. Every time I try, I end up being legalistic or depressed.

God reassured me I could reach a place of being made happy by the right things, but there’s not need right now to get wrapped up overthinking what those things are and feeling a weighted guilt for not being at a yet-to-be-defined place of perfection. Because a change like that will be a spiritual job which requires God. Read: I’m not going to hand it to you, but we’re going to toil on it together because hard work is good for youBe patient. And other annoying stuff moms and dads say.

It’s just I read once that Mother Teresa had deformed feet because she would always wear the most uncomfortable pair shoes of those donated to wherever she was taking care of people with leprosy and shit. She didn’t want anyone else to have to wear the worst pair of shoes. Ugh, that’s totally inspiring, but if I’m being honest with myself I don’t want to constantly be in pain. And how much sacrificing is enough? How much comfort, self-care, recharging is too much? And how do I keep my wonky brain stable while trying to be responsible.

See, I told you, I’m prone to guilt. Big time.

I’ve learned enough from my relationship with God to know guilt is not a good thing. We’re working through it and this is the most recent place where we are doing so.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be happy, but I do think it’s bad to idolize being happy. If we idolize happiness, I think one of two (or both) things happen. We end up feeling empty because there isn’t enough self-care, organizing, dream-chasing that can fill us all the way up. And/or… we end up neglecting (or stepping on) people who don’t have the luxuries we do to have much of a choice where they work or to have the chance to travel or to access the resources we do.

How much focusing on positive changes is too much? You have to do that sometimes. If I hadn’t focused on making positive changes, I would still be wanting to kill myself. But at what point are we hyper-focusing on ourselves? When do we stop and just need to choose joy despite circumstances?

How do you grapple with this conundrum? Or do you? I know it’s a very Alissa thing to be stuck on. But maybe you could give me some perspectives to chew on with Jesus. Share your wisdom. I’d love to hear it.

Not to end this abruptly, but that’s all I got for now. Also, a large group of college kids has sat down beside me who apparently have yet to be introduced to the concept of “inside voices.”

Thanks for stopping by.




PS my list I was making of what I think would actually make me happy looks like this so far:


-A close and relaxed relationship with my husband

-Frequent contact with family

-Close friendships that challenge me and make me more whole

-Connection with the “least of these”


-Some amount of downtime to spend as I please or to recharge as I need to 

-A meaningful job that doesn’t consume my life

It’s probably telling I didn’t write anything about God in there, but to be fair I was interrupted by a message from my mom which distracted me into writing this post. I would like to point out, I could have went back and added a spiritual bullet point in there to look more holy than I am, but transparency is something I highly value.

I would like to add it now however. (To the foundation part)

-An open, mysterious, and ever-growing relationship with this God person who won’t let me the heck go.


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