Back at the beginning of this year, the popular music streaming service Spotify announced the most streamed song for 2014 on a global scale. No, it was not Frozen’s “Let it Go.” Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” won the top spot for the most streamed song on the planet as well as third place on the US list (just behind “Fancy” and “Dark Horse”).
This came as no surprise. The song is catchy, upbeat, and you cannot listen to it without wanting to clap along. I will confess I am one of those many people who contributed to its statistical success. It is a fun song. It has been everywhere, from controversy overseas, an Academy Award nomination for best song, and has even been parodied by the king of parody, Weird Al Yankovic. The world love love loves Happy.
But what does it mean to be happy? What is happiness? And why were people so drawn to this particular song in 2014?
A nugget of truth, but still just a nugget
In an opinion article on the New York Times, Pharrell Williams wrote:
"Most people think that once they have found ‘it’ — whatever that ‘it’ may be for them — then they will have attained ‘perfect’ happiness. But happiness always comes from within, and many, unfortunately, take it for granted, or feel guilty about it or suppress happiness instead of setting it free.”
Pharrell does point out a truth that many people in our world seem to not understand: your circumstances should not be what make you ultimately happy. Material things, the “it” that people seek, cannot bring true happiness. Yet while this rings true, the thinking behind it still lacks cohesiveness.
Let me break down the problem with this mindset: If I am not happy, and then look within myself to find happiness, it is only logical to conclude (and indeed find to be true) that I do not have any happiness to make myself happy because I am not happy and, therefore, have no happiness. Still with me?
It’s the same conundrum that people run into when they are told to look to themselves, or their heart, to find the solution to their problems. If you do not have answers and then look within yourself to find answers, you obviously cannot find any because you do not have any – which is why you are looking for them. Basically, it is relativism at its most confusing.
Add God into the equation
What is the solution for this cyclical conundrum? I believe the answer lies in how we define happiness. What Williams describes in his opinion article is really grasping at the idea of true joy, which cannot be affected by circumstance.
But where does true joy come from? The key is to add God to the mix. One of the many examples in the Bible can be found in Nehemiah 8:10b: ”For this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Nehemiah and his fellow wall builders faced much adversity. There was not much encouragement to be found in their circumstances. But their happiness and joy did not come from how they felt or from what was happening around them. Their joy was from God.
When seeking happiness, what Pharrell calls "a human right” and "as important as the breath of air in your lungs,” looking within ourselves will only lead to disappointment. Looking to Christ as the Author and Finisher of our faith and trusting in Him, we break the circle of self-introspection and find true joy. The answers we seek are found in Him. After all, He is steadfast and unchanging, so there is no better truth to base joy or happiness on than Him.
The longing of humanity (at least those of us who use Spotify)
So why has the song done so well? I would submit that it reminds people that such a thing as true joy exists. The “you can’t bring me down because I’m happy” attitude is appealing to everyone. Who does not want to be happy? The reality is that humanity longs to have real, true, honest-to-goodness, unquenchable joy. The even more pertinent reality is that true joy can only be found in Christ, not within the hearts of men. This reality should drive us to spread the gospel even more. The hearts of men are seeking what only Christ can offer. Let us spread the good news. Let us not only be happy, but happy in Christ alone.