Is the Pursuit of Happiness Just a Bunch of Baloney?

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This weekend, we had a group of teens from around Montana travel to Billings for the Yellowstone Valley Youth Rally.

I was one of the speakers for the event, and since I’ve lived overseas for six of the last seven years, I didn’t feel especially in touch with the modern teen.  In preparation, I decided to try and see if I could figure out what’s currently happening in the world of teen spirituality.

I found some fascinating information.

Perhaps most fascinating was some research done by Christian Smith.  Despite the fact that the information is a little dated (way back in 2005), I came across a really interesting article about moral therapeutic deism.  After surveying thousands of teens, Smith concluded that moral therapeutic deism is the dominant religion of America today.  After overhearing all the conversations with the teens, he came up with a list of the five things that American teens believe:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

While there are a lot of interesting things we could say about all of these conclusions, I’m especially intrigued by #3: the goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.

That sounds an awful lot like a part of the American constitution which talks about the pursuit of happiness.

Side note: As a reminder, I’m not an American, and my lowest grade in college was in US History, so I might not have any idea what I’m talking about.

I tend to agree with Timothy Keller in his sermon, The Search for Happiness, that happiness is always a byproduct.

If a person makes happiness their goal, they’ll never find it.  Instead, we pursue other forms of service and commitment to a greater cause (Christ), and happiness – deep and mystical happiness – will be a byproduct of a life of sacrifice.

I’ve read a dizzying number of articles about pursuing happiness.  It is a sort of holy grail that everyone seems to be chasing these days.

There’s even a scene in the movie The Pursuit of Happiness when Chris Gardner, the main character, gets the job he’s been chasing after.  He celebrates and reflects on the moment and says,  “This part of my life, this little part, is called happiness.”

But if happiness is a byproduct, as Matthew chapter 5 teaches, then the happy aren’t those who make happiness their only goal.  Deep and abiding happiness comes from passionately pursuing Christ.

Perhaps we all ought to be concerned when a generation has decided that their central goal in life is to be happy and feel good about themselves. I suspect if that’s the goal, we’re going to spend money very differently than if we think happiness is a byproduct of true Christian service.

Or, perhaps, I just have no idea what I’m talking about.  Perhaps you can find happiness by pursuing it.

Have you found happiness by pursuing it or by chasing after something else?


  1. says

    Great post Craig, I was just in Billings btw, left there Friday, beautiful city! It seems a bit self-serving to make pursuing happiness your central goal. I think if you do things which are biblically accepted, then happiness will be the outcome. Making your central goal one of helping others and ensuring their happiness would seem to have reciprocal effect on your psyche. Just my two cents.

  2. says

    Nice article, Craig. I think a key is to realize that there is a difference between JOY and Happiness. Pure joy can only come from the inside; through a filling of a void with a relationship with Christ.

    What I find cool is that some recent research has shown that over 90% people around the world actually feel pretty good about their lives as a whole – regardless of income, education, or where they lived. Another takeaway was that the amount of money someone has doesn’t really have that much of an effect on their overall happiness level. Of course, we’ve all been taught that for years! Lol.

    I’ve said before that I believe that there *are* some things that we can do that lead to a happier day-to-day life:

    Look at the bright side.Hang more with your homies. Quit Jonesing for your neighbors’ bling. Measure yourself by your own yardstick. Do more things that challenge your mind. And most importantly, forgive and forget.

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