How to be happy (hint: the commercials may be wrong!)

 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Matthew 16:25-26

Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment.

definition of “happiness”
Photo-credit: Black Salmon/Shutterstock

Sometimes I wonder how it is that so many people are disappointed, and miss the mark so completely, and come up short so often when it comes to “happiness.” We are, after all, a nation that has the idea of its pursuit enshrined in possibly the most quoted line from our founding documents.

I wonder if Thomas Jefferson understood quite how elusive a shadow or a slip-through-our-grasp moonbeam the idea turns out to be? Like finding the end of a rainbow, or catching a falling star, or being able to plan and execute the “perfect” moment, or evening, or day, or vacation.

Cultural Moral Obligation!

Yet happiness is touted as not only something we can gain for ourselves but something we should chase after, almost as a cultural moral obligation. And then, in case we were unclear as to how to achieve happiness, we are instructed (to the tune of millions if not billions of dollars) regarding what to value, what to chase after, what to buy.

All those people in the commercials, so obviously happy because they drive this car, purchased that product, consumed these particular beverages.

And the presentations, the bait, the traps are all set for individuals: because in this culture everything is all about “me” and we assess value in relation to personal achievements, and the Holy Grail of achievement in America is happiness.

The research:

The research is in, and (interestingly but not the least surprising) the Christian faith has it right – has always had it right – when it remembers that Jesus teaches self-giving love as the only viable path toward The Good Life.

The more that people strive for and work to achieve their own “happiness”, then the less happy/fulfilled/satisfied they tend to be. People who focus on others, and who work to bring light and joy to those around them, are demonstrably more at peace, content, and joyful; in a word, “happy.”

It is like my definition of salvation: joining in with God’s ongoing initiatives of love, compassion, light, grace, mercy, justice, service, and hope.

I appreciate the following quote from 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill:

“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.” 

John Stuart Mill (autobiography)

Jesus says:

Jesus, of course, gets to the heart of the truth in a way that much of 21st Century Christianity (especially political evangelicalism and the gospel of prosperity) seems to have completely sidestepped or ignored.

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
“Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
“Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
“Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5:2-10
– North Carolina writer Derek Maul

“So you want to be happy?” Jesus would say if he put up $5 million for a Super Bowl ad spot… “Stop thinking about your own happiness! Instead, throw all your dreams and your resources into working for justice for the oppressed, and light for those in darkness, and hope for the hopeless, and mercy for the defeated. Do this with compassion, and mercy, and grace, and in love.”

Happiness: don’t demand it, don’t try to take it for yourself, don’t attempt to buy it; don’t live for it, live for others. – DEREK

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