The other day I was watching a movie on television and was struck by a fascinating quote.
“Would you change who you are to be happy?”
What a profound question! Of course, I would expect nothing less from one of the most intellectual and philosophical movies of all time – Zookeeper starring Kevin James. But honestly, I’m not sure if there are many other questions that are as relevant to our society as this one. In fact, the pursuit of happiness is so engrained in the American dream and so advertised by poetically-styled slogans that it would almost seem like a sin to question the concept.
“Just be happy.”
“(insert your own inspiring mantra here.)”
Really, it seems like these things are everywhere! So, what’s the problem?
Well, …I don’t think they’re true.
Yeah, I guess that makes me a terrible person.
At least give me a chance to explain myself. See, these phrases and ideas sound good and sound desirable because they share some truth. I suppose that you could say that they are almost true. However, if something is almost true, then it is still not true. I almost intercepted a pass in one of my football games last year, but the stat sheet had a big fat zero (yes, I’m still bitter about it). Do we see the point though? That’s why this thinking and these types of phrases are so dangerous – because they sound like truth. However, I think that if we take them to their logical conclusions, then we’ll find that they indeed are not all their cracked up to be.
Happiness and the Quest for Emotion
The quest for happiness is a quest for emotion. In fact, most tricky phrases that we hear stem from an emotionally centered culture. Our society has come to value emotions above just about everything. The problem with this, is that emotion is not something to be found. Rather, emotion is something to be experienced. Living your life to be happy is like chasing the wind. It can’t be captured, bottled up, or bought. It’s something that we feel as we live our life. The same is true with any emotion. So why do we treat them as if they are possessions or people? Don’t be fooled. People are not living life to be happy – they’re living life for the things that make them happy.
Happiness and the Unstable Foundation
If we are indeed living for the things that make us feel happy (or any emotion), this is a problem. What happens when these things no longer have their desired effect? What happens when they no longer make you happy? What happens when they disappear? Be assured, nothing on this earth lasts forever. Money can be taken, athleticism go away, beauty can fade, and people can die. If these are what we live our life for, then we will either be devastated and unable to recover, or we’ll move on to something else that will give us our happiness. And so begins the unhappy search for happiness, only to ultimately come up empty handed.
In this continuous quest to sustain our happiness, we find that it is us who change. Just as the quote from the movie said, we change who we are to be happy. When one thing no longer gives us happiness, we move to the next, and the next, and so on. If our lives are continuously changing as we search for happiness, then something is wrong, even if the change isn’t necessarily bad. It shows us that our emotions control us, rather than us controlling our emotions. As a result, we run from our difficulties and don’t stay to face our problems. This is shaky ground at best, and certainly an unstable foundation for which to set our lives.
Happiness and the God Infinitely Better
I find it amazing that Jesus came to us as a suffering servant. God himself, who enjoyed infinite joy, happiness, and satisfaction humbled himself into the body of a human and died on a cross for us. If that doesn’t tell us something about happiness, I don’t know what will. Jesus didn’t come here to be happy. He didn’t come here to love life. Jesus came here because he was on a mission to save you and me. He was obedient to the will of the Father, and he followed through because he knew that God’s plan was good. Perhaps then, we should take a lesson from Jesus. Perhaps our search for love and happiness is not the most important thing after all. Perhaps it’s God himself that we should live for and love.
In John 12:25, Jesus leaves us with some pretty challenging words. He says, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” In other words, it’s God who should be our focus. We should be living to please Him, and be willing to face the circumstances and emotions that he throws our way. If we allow God to guide us and lead us, then we will be able to control our emotions, instead of having them control us. Our life will be on firm ground, because we are in an intimate relationship with the unchanging God of the universe. We will no longer be living life for emotion, but rather for the one who created emotion. After all, if emotion is really just something that can be experienced, then maybe we should instead be searching for a being. Perhaps our desire to be happy is really a misplaced search for the One who is infinite Joy itself. Perhaps our quest for love and satisfaction is really for the One who is infinite Love itself.
The truth is, God doesn’t promise us happiness in this life…but he does promise us Himself. Quite honestly, there is nothing better than that. Jesus says in Luke 12:31, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.” It’s my prayer that we might make this our goal throughout life. Don’t get caught up in the American dream or the poetically-styled slogans from the media. Remember who Jesus is, what he did for us, and live your life for Him – no matter what the cost. If we can do that, we will have lived life to the full (John 10:10). No doubt we will be faced with trials and hardships. Things will not always be easy, and we will surely deal with the full range of emotions. But we can rest assured – happiness will most certainly be one of them.
“Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.” – Psalm 119:35
Don’t be fooled. People are not living life to be happy. They’re living life for the THINGS that make them happy.