Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

God's Principles for Happiness

Karen VanTil Gushta, Ph.D.

What is the first word or phrase that comes to your mind when you read “the pursuit of happiness”? Most of us quickly respond, “The Declaration of Independence.” But although most Americans may know the origin of that phrase, the majority seems to have lost an understanding of its original meaning and equate it with the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Here in south Florida we see a lot of “Salt Life” stickers on trucks and SUVs. On Sundays the ocean is full of those pursuing the “Salt Life,” and the beaches and golf courses are swarming with pleasure seekers.

But many of America’s Founders, having read the philosopher Aristotle, knew what he said about attaining happiness. In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle wrote, “It is virtuous activities that determine our happiness, and the opposite kind that produce the opposite effect.” Pursuing happiness in Aristotle’s view is primarily the pursuit of virtue—both moral and intellectual virtue. The latter is cultivated through instruction, but the former is the result of habit. Aristotle was clear that “none of the moral virtues is engendered in us by nature . . . and their full development in us is due to habit.”

Both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington tried assiduously to make various virtues habitual through practice. That’s a good idea for us today, too. The apostle Peter exhorted the believers, “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). What moral virtues can we cultivate as Christians that will bring us happiness?

God’s Word has a lot to say about the godly virtues that will bring us happiness. But in today’s society we don’t hear much discussion about moral virtue, or any other kind of virtue other than the virtue of “tolerance.” However, as Dr. D. James Kennedy said on numerous occasions, “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society.”  Our society now tolerates anything and everything—except for the Christian virtues. As Dr. Kennedy said, “When you have an immoral society that has blatantly, proudly, violated all of the commandments of God, there is one last virtue they insist upon; tolerance for their immorality.” 

More and more, our culture is devoid of the virtues that have been prized for centuries as the mark of a civilized society. Prior to Aristotle, Plato had identified what became to be known as the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. Aristotle’s version emphasized “practical wisdom,” known as prudence, and added others such as magnanimity and gentleness. In the early church, Ambrose and Augustine both wrote about the cardinal virtues, and the great medieval philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas also wrote extensively on kinds of virtue.   

Today, moral philosophers, most of them taking their cue from Aristotle, still write on virtue ethics. But gone are the days of Washington and Franklin, when it was common for youth and young adults to work on cultivating specific virtues. After the Ten Commandments were removed from America’s schools, the ensuing vacuum was filled for a time by the feeble efforts of the “values clarification” movement. However, today, “Too many of our children are technical wizards and moral illiterates.”[1] Often the only moral education students get concerns anti-bullying with much of the focus on preventing bullying of transgender and homosexual students. In that vein, the far-left "hate group" monitor, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has extensive resources for teachers under their “Teaching Tolerance” project, which they claim promotes “equality, inclusiveness and equitable learning environments in the classroom.”[2]   

So if we want to find happiness by pursuing virtue and teaching our children to do the same, where can we find God’s instruction on this topic? Pursuing “charity in all things” is a good place to start, as we read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). He reiterates this in his letter to the Colossians, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).  Jesus commanded His disciples (and hence us) to “love one another” (John 15:17b).

Truly, the greatest virtue we can pursue to bring us happiness is charity, or agape: the love that is of and from God, whose nature is love itself. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Everything God does flows from His love.

Along with pursuing love, we may also consider the other virtues Paul lists in Colossians.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 
Colossians 3:12-15

The problem we face in “putting on” any of these virtues is that, even with habitual training, we find we continually fall short in exercising them when we rely on our own efforts. However, the great consolation we have as Christians is that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5) and now we have the ability to walk in love when we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:5). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit enables us to bear fruit: the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

So if we would find happiness, let ask God to fill us with His Spirit that we may walk in His love and thereby put on the virtues that were foreign to us in our unredeemed state, but are now part of our new character in Christ. "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:24-25).                                                                                                                                                                                 

[1] The Virtues Project,

[2] “Teaching Tolerance,”