The desire for happiness is something that humans have sought after since time immemorial. We all want to flourish and find meaning and happiness in life, but through experience, we come to realize that those precious things are elusive, and once found can be difficult to hold on to. Are we doomed to pursue happiness without achieving it, or is true happiness a real possibility?
Finding happiness: What makes you happy?
Finding happiness is a personal journey. Those who have gone before us may leave us signposts, warnings, whispers of what works and what might lead to disappointment of the worst sort, but we must do the demanding work of sifting and figuring things out as we go. Below are a few ideas to get you started or keep you going on your journey.
When you try to put a square peg in a round hole, it doesn’t end well. When you know yourself, you know what triggers certain moods, what you enjoy, and what you don’t. A person who knows themselves has a clear sense of who they are and the boundaries they require as they go through life.
When you know what you’re about, you’re less susceptible to simply following the crowd in whatever is popular. Don’t live life pursuing what makes other people happy because that only leaves you feeling empty. Knowing yourself and pursuing what will make you happy doesn’t mean ignoring others and what makes them happy. Taken too far that would result in selfishness and heartache.
One thing that the Bible reminds us of is that our wholeness is connected to the wholeness of others. This means that although we pursue our happiness because it will make us happy, we need to be aware that that pursuit may have an impact on others. A husband may desire to be happy, but if the pursuit of that happiness will lead to cheating on his wife and then leaving his family behind, that pursuit of happiness then becomes a sin.
Be authentic.Sometimes, we pursue things because we are preoccupied with what other people will think of us. We work hard to acquire things to impress people we don’t know, and our lives are trapped in a cycle of doing things to gain acclaim in the eyes of others.
A Christian rapper named Andy Mineo put out a record addressing this very issue. As someone who had gained success, he was welcomed onto huge platforms and had begun to see the fruit of success. He understood how the drive to be on top and show that you’re on top works like a trap – it’s a gilded cage, but a cage, nonetheless.
Some of the verses in the song “Never Land” go like this:
“Everybody wanna be on top
I don’t think they know what that means
Once you get there you can’t stop
Everybody gunning for ya spot
Aiming at ya team, I’m up all night, chasing dreams
Everything change when you go from seeing it all
Big screen to behind the scenes
Leading us on like this the life they lead
You know the rich and famous
Kill theyself to stay rich and famous
Very same thing that they built they name with
Be the same thing that they be enslaved with
…I know we own things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know
Then we go broke trying to look rich
I can’t do it, I just won’t
My new goal is to be close to the one that made my soul man
Them other highs are gon’ let you down
I’m trying to get so high I’ll Never Land”
The “high” as Andy goes on to say, is God and being part of His Kingdom. Those are gifts that keep on giving, a high that will never let you down. Sometimes what we thought would make us happy leaves us feeling disillusioned. That’s a part of life, and we need to be aware of how ephemeral happiness can be.
That may sound harsh, but the power in recognizing that truth releases us from pursuing what we think will make us happy and being disappointed when it doesn’t deliver what we hoped it would. Chasing what we think other people will applaud can leave us utterly empty, because what pleases the crowd changes like the weather, and it doesn’t lead to lasting happiness.
So, on the one hand, being authentic is about chasing what we genuinely want, not what will make other people think better of us, but on the other hand, it is about pursuing what will truly meet our needs and make us happy. Many things attempt to fill this hole, but too often we find them lacking in the long run.
The very things we pursue in the hope that they’ll bring us peace and happiness can end up tasting like ash in our mouths – what is promised and what they can deliver are often two vastly different things. In a collection of essays called The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote about our desires being too weak. We may think we are pursuing our authentic selves, but we can find that we’re settling for less than is on offer for us.
Lewis writes, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
In our pursuit of happiness, we may find ourselves grasping onto things we think will make us happy, but they don’t provide the lasting happiness we crave. The God who created us is, Himself, what will make us genuinely happy if we would only listen.
Fighting for happiness
Many things can get in the way of finding happiness, and that includes procrastination and postponing it for another time. Instead of shelving your pursuit, take the initiative. Don’t keep postponing your happiness for better circumstances, because better circumstances may not arrive, and when they do you may find those circumstances don’t meet your expectations.
The quickest way to find happiness here and now is growing in contentment. The circumstances you find yourself in right now may not be ideal, but the eyes of contentment help you to appreciate your present circumstances even while recognizing that they’re not ideal and attempting to move beyond them.
You may not be in your dream job, but contentment helps you to see that even that job can meet some of your financial needs and let you perform a function that blesses others.
Closely related to contentment is learning to practice gratitude. Often, things that are not going according to plan can blind us to the things that are. Your home may not be the biggest or most posh house on the block, but it is a home, and your family has grown and has memories attached to it. Gratitude allows us to develop a more positive outlook on our present circumstances, and that can bring us closer to happiness.
Things won’t always turn out as we’d hoped, and even when things work out exactly as planned, disillusionment can rob you of your high. Practicing gratitude helps you maintain perspective in these various situations.
Avoid the comparison game.
Comparison is the thief of joy. We can see it plainly in young children – they can be very happy playing with the toy they have in front of them, but as soon as they see another child having loads of fun with their own toy, suddenly what’s in front of them seems dull and lifeless.
This impulse can become more subtle and sophisticated as we grow older, but the basic premise remains the same. “Keeping up with the Jones” is a game that will have us constantly upgrading our lawns, homes, jobs, cars, bodies, clothes, spouses, and more because we want what others have. However, once we have those things, we don’t stay happy for long. Avoid comparing yourself to others; it’ll steal your joy and leave you thirsting for more.
Then Jesus said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” – Luke 12:15
“Smiling Woman”, Courtesy of Nandu Vasudevan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smiling Man”, Courtesy of Charles Etoroma, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Laughing Woman”, Courtesy of Benigno Hoyuela, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smile”, Courtesy of Joel Mott, Unsplash.com, CC0 License/>