People are often looking for some kind of secret to happiness. In our culture, we tend to associate happiness with good fortune — good jobs, nice homes, stable families, good health — circumstantial things. That is, after all, the American Dream; it’s a dream of prosperity made possible by economic mobility and social equality. Even in our faith lives, we often assume — or at least I do — that this kind of comfort is what God wants for us. If God wants us to be happy, then surely God wants us to have what we’ve been led to believe is necessary for happiness.In today’s second reading, the Apostle Paul turns this notion upside down. Instead of taking the culture’s view of material happiness and equating it with God’s will, Paul talks about a secret to happiness that has nothing to do with circumstances. “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance,” Paul writes to the Philippians. “In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”We all share this need — to be able to know that we are experiencing God’s “glorious riches” regardless of the circumstances we are in.The secret to happiness for Paul is to feel God’s presence in “every circumstance and in all things.” This shakes up my view of happiness and of God’s will. Typically, I think that if I don’t feel happy, something is wrong and God is not providing for me. I suppose this means that I have not learned how to “live in humble circumstances and also how to live with abundance;” and that I have not “learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry.” When hunger and poverty threaten me, I am usually terrified, not confident, and certainly not happy about what is happening.“My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,” Paul concludes. This is quite a statement — that Paul knows God will meet peoples’ needs because God has met his own needs. What has Paul needed? To know how to accept poverty, hunger, being in need, as well as abundance. It seems to me that we all share this need — to be able to know that we are experiencing God’s “glorious riches” regardless of the circumstances we are in. We are not promised abundance, prosperity, beauty and health. Believe me, I know as well as anyone how hard it is to believe in God’s riches when I have none of my own. But maybe that’s the point: Once we experience God’s generosity, we are free from the relentless pressure to achieve economic and emotional security. So, then, the secret of happiness might be called the ability to be happy when we’re not supposed to feel happy. Happiness does not come from the car, the house, the career, the relationship, the children. It’s comes when we find that we, too, can experience all things with faith and confidence.Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]