Admit it. You want to be happy…all the time. Okay, maybe that’s taking it a bit too far. Most of us will settle for happiness 96% of the time. Americans want to be happy. But we’re not the only ones.
“The pursuit of happiness” is a cherished line in our Declaration of Independence, but this is by no means an idea that’s an American original. People have been searching for happiness for a long time…from the beginning of time, it seems.
But what do we mean by happiness? For a lot of people happiness means the quest for pleasure. Sex, food, leisure, gaming, shopping sprees, alcohol, this list has no conceivable end.
The problem with trying to find happiness in pleasure is that pleasure has a brief shelf life. The feeling of happiness we get from any pleasure soon fades away. The next time we return to pleasure we discover we need a little more of it to get the same feeling. Travel down the pleasure path for any length of time and you find yourself in the wasteland of addiction.
If we’re not looking to find happiness in pleasure, we’re usually looking to find it in fame, fortune, power, security, or any other imaginable object. At this point you may be thinking, “Here we go again! Another preacher moralizing about the ‘evils of this world.’”
Well friend, allow me to catch you up short. I like sex and lots of other pleasures, and I don’t believe there’s something inherently evil with fame, fortune, power, and security. I’ll go a step further. I think God likes sex too. He’s the one who thought of it. God made us pleasure-seeking beings, he made us with the capacity to earn money, to have a measure of power over our own lives, to seek after security, and he gave some of us gifts that make us famous. Hooray God!
But if God is behind all these things, why don’t they make us forever happy? Well, it’s because God is behind them or beyond them, and we blunder by thinking the object itself is good enough to make us happy.
Put another way, we go to an object in the world and we kneel down before it and we say, “Please, O please, make me happy.” And the object does not answer because it can’t. It’s just an object. What the object is meant to do is point beyond itself to the One who created it.
Pleasure, power, fame, fortune, and every other good object in the world are all “fingers” pointing to God. They’re meant to tantalize us, to motivate us to look for God. And once we begin looking for God we make the incredible discovery that he was looking for us first!
When we look to God as our source of happiness, happiness itself begins to take on a new meaning. It becomes much less about our needs, wants, desires, and more about serving others for their own sake. A kind of deep rest begins to settle into our souls.
Perhaps that’s the best way of thinking about happiness in this life. It’s being at rest, or at peace, with yourself, with others, and with the world, no matter what is happening.
So the next time you’re tempted to look for happiness in an object of this world, I hope that you’ll remember these words: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” – St. Augustine
What does happiness mean to you? Have you found it or are you still searching?
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