Skip To Main Content

Alasdair Groves

Jesus and Happiness

May 1, 2024


This is episode 5 in a miniseries on emotions, where we are considering how to understand Jesus’s emotions and how that helps us understand our own. This episode considers three questions: Is it okay to be happy? Was Jesus happy? Are you happy?

Listen to the other episodes in this series: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4

Mentioned in this episode: we recently released our latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling, which includes articles on topics such as trauma, the empty nest, faithfulness in marriage, and scrupulosity. Learn more here.


Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves, and I'm the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, where our mission is to restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church. For more information about our ministry and for thousands of resources that seek to mine the treasures of Scripture for the troubles of life, just visit our website,

Today is part 4 in our miniseries on emotions, and particularly the emotions of Jesus. I've got three questions for you today. Question #1: Is it okay to be happy? Now, I hope that's a provocative question. I imagine for most of us, the immediate knee-jerk answer to that is "Of course it's okay to be happy. What are you talking about?" But within the Christian world, I do hear a lot of talk about the problem of pursuing happiness. The problem of pursuing happiness, particularly in a selfish, self-indulgent kind of way, or even just a way where being happy is the goal of life, and that's seen as a problem.

So we'll talk about the self-indulgence epidemic out there, the fact that life is not about being as comfortable, and as fulfilled, and as rich or healthy or whatever as you possibly can be. That isn't the point of life. Scripture points us in a different path, and our culture all around us is saying, "Focus everything on being happy." Being happy and feeling good about yourself and about your life is the biggest, best thing you can possibly do. To this extent, I think that's a right critique. I think that's a problem that we see in the world around us, an obsession with happiness, an idolatry of being happy all the time, as much as possible. I would say beyond that, most people I know are not people who I would describe and say, "Yeah, you know what? They're just really happy people."

I don't see that in life around me. I don't know that anyone would describe me as like, "You know what? He's just a happy guy." So I think you have a lot of unhappiness out there, and I think that's a legitimate thing for us to be aware of and concerned about, and there are very real problems with an obsession with happiness. So let's start there. Is it okay to be happy? On one level, yeah, of course. Sure. It has to be. On another level, not so fast, there's some level of concern we should have about the pursuit of happiness. Let me put it that way.

Are you ready for question #2? Was Jesus happy? Now, asking the question that way, coming to this, I imagine fairly quickly your mind starts to go to a similar place that my mind went to when I asked this question a little bit ago, and we spent some time in one of our faculty content groups discussing this question. Was Jesus happy? It kind of depends on what you mean by happy, doesn't it? And there are lots of different attempts that have been given, and every dictionary is going to have its definition of happy. Probably one of the most famous definition of happiness is actually one that Aristotle gave, or at least I believe it was Aristotle; I remember learning about it in a college philosophy class. Basically, he's saying that happiness is a successful outcome to your life. So you actually can't know if someone is happy until after they die and their story comes to its conclusion, and then you can say, "Did they live a happy life or not?"

So we've had lots of stabs at “What is happiness? What does it mean to be happy? What does it mean to be truly happy?” And how you define the word happy is going to have an impact on whether you would say that Jesus was happy or not. But let me walk you through my own processing of this question. “Was Jesus happy?” That is not the first word I would use to describe him. In fact, if I'm honest, it at least seems like the word happy could be a bit on the frivolous side when being applied to Jesus. It feels like that could kind of trivialize the depth and importance of his mission. Surely we can at least say Jesus was not intensely focused on being happy during his ministry and on his walk to the cross to die for our sins and rescue us from the perils of being toxically independent.

So, was Jesus happy? It's not the first place I go, but then I have to ask myself, "Okay, would I say that Jesus was unhappy? Is Jesus an unhappy character?" That doesn't feel good or right either. Do I see him in his ministry, do I see him stumbling along from one drudgery to the next, one obligation to the next, painfully and disconcertingly unhappy as he walks through his life? No, I don't want to say Jesus was unhappy. I don't see him stumbling from one annoying obligation to the next, even though there were very real sufferings and there were great burdens on him, and he faced all kinds of hardships.

Do you think that Jesus enjoyed preaching? Do you think he liked healing people? How do you think he felt about seeing repentance actually happen? What do you think it was like for him when he went over to Zacchaeus's house and faced all the flack that he took for going to see Zacchaeus, who was an infamous person in his town, and watching him repent, watching him turn his life inside out and go from being someone who exploited his countryman to someone who was humbled and said, "I am making it my dedication to be generous, to more than pay back what I have taken.”

Do you think he got joy from driving demons out of his fragile, helpless children? Do you think he liked feeding the hungry? Do you think there was a happy experience watching the feeding of the 5,000, watching just the awe and the delight and the children looking up at their parents and laughing and confused as fish and loaves get multiplied to feed them? When the disciples come back from their time out, as he sent them out to preach the kingdom, and they came back and talked about their successes, talked about healing and driving out demons themselves, and people responding to the preaching of the kingdom. Do you think these things brought him joy? Surely, they did. Surely, so much of his life here was characterized by seeing the wonderful unfolding of the things that his heart delighted in.

Here's where we come back to this question of, "How do you define happy?" Because in Hebrew in the Old Testament, the word happy is the word asher, or ah-shur, depends on your context, but the word asher, which can mean happy or it can mean blessed. So in a sense, words can mean different things, and you can have the same word that you use in different contexts to mean different things. But I think partly what's happening here in the Hebrew mind is that happiness is, in a sense, blessedness. To be happy is to be blessed, and to be blessed is to be happy. There's this inextricable relationship between the two.

I've been thinking a lot about blessing, and what is it? The place that I keep coming back to, the thing that has been so increasingly helpful for me, is that when we talk about someone or something being blessed, essentially what we mean is that it is flourishing in exactly the way it was meant to function. There is fruit being born from this tree, from this plant, and it is rich fruit, and it's exactly the kind of fruit that it was made to bear. It's not being hindered from producing fruit. Windstorm hasn't come. The locusts haven't eaten it. To be blessed is to succeed in the very things which you are intending to do. The purposes for which you did an action are coming to fruition. That's how I understand the heart of blessedness. So when we think about happiness and blessedness going together, I think essentially what we're saying is that to be happy, to be truly and deeply happy, is to be blessed in the sense that you see fruit being born where you are seeking to bear, nurture, and raise fruit.

So you really see this all over, when you think about it that way, in Jesus's life. You think about Luke 15, where Jesus tells three parables: a woman finding a coin, a shepherd finding a lost sheep, and then the most famous of the three, of course, being the prodigal son. The father, having a son who was dead but restored to him alive, or functionally dead, had left and abandoned the family, cut off all contact, and said, "Dad, I wish you were dead." And slammed the door, and his son came home. In each of these parables, there is this profound feasting, rejoicing, delighting that happens at the end of the story when something lost is found and is restored. That's Jesus's whole mission. Every time he saw someone repent or respond to the message of the kingdom, he was seeing the very thing that he, in his parable, says is all about celebration and feasting.

We see him talk to a centurion, not even a Jew, not someone who would naturally have a faith in the power of God and Jesus as the living Messiah, the second person of the Trinity. That centurion has incredible faith, and Jesus says, "Wow, I have not found faith like this. This is incredible. You get it." And there's a joy in it. You see the same thing with a woman, the Syrophoenician woman who asks for healing for her child, and Jesus basically says, "Look, I'm here to serve the people of Israel." And she says, "Yeah but—yes, they're the children, but the dogs will eat scraps from under the table, won't they?" And just the humility and the faith of this woman, it's beautiful to see her just absolute single-minded, pressing towards God for her need and for her desperate sense of what is wrong."

I think about Him even just... he prays at one point about the gospel, about the kingdom, about the truth of the universe, and says, "I thank you, Lord. I thank you, Father, that you've revealed these things not to the wise but to little children." That the gospel is so simple that a child can grasp it. It is not a high bar set of people having to strive to achieve to be good enough to enter the kingdom of heaven; it is incredibly, shockingly a gift to God's people. Just the joy, the happiness that brings Jesus, that it's just utterly open. That it's this surprising counterintuitive gift and therefore can flourish so easily.

We can keep citing many more examples. He says, "Let the little children come to me." And you sense the joy that he has in childlike faith. John 15–17, he has a lot of “my joy” language: "My joy is in you. My joy will be complete. The Father's good purposes for saving his people and bringing them into fellowship will bring me joy." And so I think we can affirm in all these things, Jesus was truly and deeply happy, and we see it in so many different places.

Maybe Hebrews 12:2 is as good a summary as you're going to get where it says, "For the joy set before him, he endured the cross and scorned its shame." And what is the joy set before Jesus? It was the completion of his mission, the successful rescue of you, of me, of everyone who would believe in his name, be forgiven of their sins, and brought as an adopted child into his family. So his joy, his happiness is that successful flourishing of the very thing that he was after. So, in a sense, Aristotle was right. He was right that you have to have to watch what happens to see how happy you are, although we don't have to wait until after death to know that there is fruit being born because of the power of God and because of his Spirit.

So here's your third question: Are you happy? Maybe you are. I just said a few minutes ago that not many people would get described that way. And so if you are not happy, why not? Most often, in my experience, people are unhappy because their circumstances, the context and situation around them is not what they want. And in plenty of cases, it is horrifically not what you want. You don't have to listen to the news for more than 90 seconds to hear stories of entire people groups living through horrors that are unthinkable if you haven't lived through such a thing. Many people suffer in silence things that are life-shattering. Many people know sufferings on a scale that your garden-variety genuine hardships don't even begin to touch. But whether your suffering is horrific or whether it is just straight up the pains and trials and sadnesses and sorrows of life in a fallen, broken world. Nobody's circumstances are what they want.

We all know that experience of "This is anguish to me, and I really, really wish it were different." And I think that the great hope that we have from watching Jesus's happiness is it gives us this ability to know that there is a happy that can be there in the midst of exhaustion and in the midst of every kind of trial. So no matter how bad your circumstances are, what we see in Jesus is, that doesn't have to mean that there can't be a true and deep happiness in the midst of that. So I'm going to say something similar about happiness to what you often hear said about joy in the New Testament. Joy is a much more common word in the New Testament than happiness, and we talk about the importance that you can have joy even in trials.

James 1 makes this crazy statement: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds." And he puts a period there, and you're like, "Wait, what? Joy in trials. Why would I consider that a joy?" And he goes on to say, "There's this building of your faith that is possible." There's this good work of the Lord that can happen in your life, that will happen when you submit your trials into his hand. That his building of your faith, his work in you, allows you to take joy in the midst of trials. It doesn't mean you actually get all happy and put your party hat on because of pain. It means pain can't take away your access to true, real, lasting joy. We'll say the same of happiness. If happiness is about fruit being born, well, God has actually particularly promised to bear fruit in our lives, even in our hard circumstances, even in the midst of our great trials.

I know this personally in some of my darkest moments, both of griefs and painful things that have happened to me, and in places where I have messed up and I've made a wreck of things in my life and in my decisions and choices, and the Lord has been faithful to me. He has worked in my life, and he's brought fruit. He's changed who I am as a result.

So what is happiness? It's blessedness. Is it okay to be happy? Yes. Was Jesus happy? Yes. Are you happy? If not, we ought to be. We want to be more happy. It's actually good to desire greater happiness.

Let me make just two final brief applications. Two things we want to be our ambition and our prayer. Number one, our ambition and our prayer is that we would be like Jesus. That we would be able to find happiness in the midst of trials and frustrations because we know God is growing us, literally changing us at the deepest level. Even Jesus who had no sin grew and was perfected through sufferings, as Hebrews 2:10 puts it. We get to have a deep hope, not a silver lining. Silver linings are fine. I'm talking about something deeper and more profound than a silver lining. And that we would see this as a place where we get to be like Jesus, not a place where we have to be like Jesus.

So ambition and prayer #1, that we would be like Jesus. Ambition and prayer #2, that our acts of love and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control, and every other fruit that comes from the Spirit, would bear good fruit and it would have meaningful impact on our world and the people around us whom we see and interact with.

Happiness is fruitful, blessing, things flourishing. So we want every prayer, every kind word, every act of service, every bit of kindness—we'd love to see those things matter, make impact, and have a difference. And as the culmination of that, we pray that we could truly savor and celebrate any and every fruit of the Spirit, every flourishing of Jesus's Spirit’s good purposes in us and in those around us.

Headshot for Executive Director

Alasdair Groves

Executive Director

Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).

Alasdair Groves's Resources

Related Resources

Subscribe Now

Sign up for our weekly email to

  • get updates about new resources
  • receive new blogs, videos, and podcasts
  • stay informed on all CCEF news