Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Recently my wife and I were discussing the issue of people's perpetual search for happiness. Here in the western world, from the time we are small we are constantly bombarded with so-called enablers to happiness: toys, clothes, a beautiful mate, money, cars, houses, vacations, status etc. The result is oftentimes the perpetual pursuit of one or more of these "tangible" rewards towards our satisfaction. Sound familiar? The all too common result however is that the achievement of one or more of these and other goals or pursuits never really brings the so-called happiness that one is often seeking. Oh it may be satisfying for a time, but the pursuit usually picks up again for the next accomplishment towards that elusive happiness goal. The parallel universe of this happiness axiom also is the failure to achieve your pursuit. Also perhaps the loss of the pursuit. The loss of a mate (married or not); the job loss; the reduction in earning power etc. These outcomes oftentimes devastate us and at times may lead to self destructive behavior. Is this really happiness? Can it be achieved and better yet...sustained?

I ask this question, because I think about what God has to say on this topic. On balance I think what you will find is that when God speaks about happiness He tends to speak in terms of happiness not via tangible things such as my list above (the cars, clothes, vacations etc.), but happiness via and through relationship with Him. Below are a few scriptures to illustrate the point:
  • Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.(Psalm 86:4)
  • Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.(Psalm 119:35)

  • The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing. (Proverbs 10:28)

I know that to the gadget driven world in which we live, the above does not sound very exciting or enticing. However we must ask ourselves, if our pursuit of happiness is apart from God, is it working for us? Does it work for our family members? How about our friends or co-workers? I did a word search on happiness throughout the Bible, and I can tell you I did not find any reference to sustainable happiness being found in the human condition in any other way. Gadgets are nice. I love my iPod Touch. But can I live without it if that is what God asks or allows to happen?

I will also take this time to call attention to fellow Christians with respect to this topic as well. The truth of the matter is that unfortunately too many of God's people fall into the same (search for happiness track apart from Him) as much as unbelievers. We may pay lip service to living for God, but what happens when the job is lost? What happens when the desired house is unattainable? What happens when the mate sought chooses another? The truth of the matter is that we live in a culture that is so anti-God that we have been brainwashed into thinking that our happiness is a result of the "fill in the blanks" commercial or advertisement seen recently on TV, the Internet or in a Magazine. Maybe happiness will be found in the car that we saw pulling out of the church parking lot this weekend. I know. I've been there!

I've thought about my own turbulence on this happiness treadmill over the years. Hopefully, I am correct in assuming that I have grown beyond the deception. Perhaps time will tell.

God does offer us a pathway to true happiness: Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8) It is the last word in this Scripture on which I would ask you to focus. How about we seek contentment perhaps more so than happiness. Contentment in our circumstances...not due to those circumstances. Allow God to make of our circumstances what He will. Go along for the ride. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker "God is my co-pilot"? How about truly letting God be your Pilot? You just be content riding in coach in the back of His plane. I love the way the Apostle Paul emphasizes the point: ...for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

(All scripture courtesy of the New Living Translation Bible)

A God who sends people to Hell?