Write a book about happiness, and you’ll find it difficult to keep those books in stock.
Americans want to be happy, but generally they aren’t. As such, we seek for solutions to our lack of happiness. We hunt for some sense of meaning. We hope for a new invention or discovery to usher us into the state of happiness.
The Declaration of Independence gives us permission to pursue happiness, but despite hundreds of years of pursuing it, too many people are coming up empty.
Why aren’t we happy?
1. Happiness is a byproduct of a meaningful life.
If we seek happiness, we’ll probably never find it. However, if we seek something else, the Kingdom of God, as an example, happiness can be an unexpected discovery. Happiness is only found not by searching for it, but by searching for purpose and meaning. Once we’ve discovered God’s purpose for our life, we find that happiness unexpectedly finds us.
2. We expect too much from happiness.
Happiness is not something God promises. God promises deeper things like hope and joy. Happiness is not the absence of hurt, pain, struggle, and suffering. We demand too much of happiness when we expect that it can only come when our lives are absent of negative event. In fact, happiness is not found apart from those things, but in the midst of them.
3. Happiness is tied too closely to affluence.
Americans who visit PNG are surprised to recognize that even though people in PNG have so little (materially speaking), they are so happy. That reveals more about us than them. We’re surprised that people can be happy without owning much. It means that we think there is a close relationship between happiness and affluence.
4. Happiness is closely associated with getting instead of giving.
Jesus says that blessings come from giving. However, we gripe, claw, fight, and argue to get what we want. (That’s what James says). When we hold tightly to all we have and fight viciously for our rights, it destroy community. In community there can be happiness, but in a competitive selfish society, happiness is harder to find.
5. Failure to achieve happiness is viewed as a personal failure.
With so many opportunities and options, we think that if we’re not happy it’s because we’ve done something wrong. Perhaps we made a wrong choice and if we make a right choice we’ll finally be happy. Happiness is then a construct we can create for ourselves by making a series of better choices. We take on a humanistic burden that assumes we alone are responsible for creating our happiness.
Perhaps if we made better choices we’d find happiness. Those better choices may involve buying a different type of car. On the advertisements folks who drive that brand new car are always smiling. We buy things believing that happiness is a byproduct of that purchase.
6. Our God-shaped hole remains empty.
St. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. If happiness is a byproduct of a meaningful life (see #1), then we’ll only feel the fullness of happiness when we’re at peace with our Creator and his creation. Pursuits of other life fillers will never address the deep hunger inside.
What say you? What aren’t we happy?