Monday, January 31, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

Americans want to be happy. We consider it an attribute when a person does whatever is necessary in order to achieve happiness. We even make movies about it.

For most of us, it is our life goal – to live and die happy. And just to clarify, to be happy means to be pleased, delighted, glad, content, joyful, or feeling pleasure.

I would argue that the qualifications for happiness change with time periods and culture. Sure, we’re all unique and to some extent happiness is subjective, but no one is that unique and most of us are products of our culture and generation to some extent at least.

Let’s say you had lived during the 18th century when it was not uncommon for young children to die from common illnesses. In that case, you probably would have been pretty happy if you got to the end of your life and all your children were still alive. Or if you lived in a time period where the average lifespan was 50, you would be happy to live to be 55. Or if you lived in a country where people regularly starve to death, a bag of rice or beans or cans of tuna would make you happy.

In the modern, Western world, we take all those things – food, living to 55, children making it to adulthood - for granted.

So what makes us happy now? Success? Education? Apple products? Physical attractiveness? Money? Power? Sex? Fame?

How do we determine what makes up happy? And how do we determine what is enough to make up happy?

I read an article recently where the wife of a very wealthy businessman was in the process of divorcing this man and she was talking about how she was going to have to live on a strict budget for the next few years and about how she was struggling to live on “just $20,000 a month”.

That’s not much less than I make in a year.

Do I need more than $20,000 a month to be happy? Does anyone?

As a Christian what should be my qualifications for happiness? My culture’s? My friends’? My family’s? Are there basic things that make every human happy regardless of time period or culture?

In the Bible, Proverbs seems to say that having other people to share life with, having a family, having a job, and having health and food to eat will make a person happy on this earth. But the Bible also seems to say that if you have those things you should praise God because you are not entitled to those things.

When times are good, be happy;
But when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Ecclesiastes 7:14 ESV

And maybe that’s the problem and by “the problem”, I mean my problem. I have no right to claim that I deserve anything. I deserve no good thing. It is only by God’s grace that I have the good things that I have.

This is what I believe, but this is not always how I feel. I’m an American and I’ve absorbed the cultural belief that I’ve worked hard, I’ve done the right thing, and I deserve the good things that I want in life.

And you know what’s weird, if you asked me to make you a list of the things I thought I needed to be happy, I don’t currently have many of those things…but I’m happy. Isn’t that strange? I don’t have many of the things that I truly want, my “dreams” haven’t come true, and I’m not really living the American Dream, but I am pleased, delighted, glad, content, and joyful.

I think it’s like this: last night I visited a church in Portland called Door of Hope and at one point the pastor talked about how his “dreams” had not come true because Jesus had come into his life and show him that his true dream was Jesus Christ Himself.

It’s true – all the money, power, and good looks in the world won’t make you truly happy…and even if it does…it will only be for a time…and you can’t take it with you. Earthly happiness can be a blessing and I hope and pray for earthly blessings and happiness. But happiness found in a life surrendered to Jesus is eternal and honestly, better than you might be imagining right now.

These are just my rambling thoughts on happiness. Welcome to my brain.

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