The (Elusive) Pursuit of Happiness
For our Live Happy series, Heather Enright writes, "We are wired for eternity. Yet, we chase down all manners of substitutes instead, and become disillusioned and disenchanted when nothing else fills that space." She admits that she, too, has served the idol of "I will be happy when."
Let me ask you a question: are you happy? If you aren't, what would make you happy? What are the things beyond your grasp right now that are causing you to feel unhappy? Why is it everyone else seems happy except you? In movies, magazines, commercials and social media, there seems to be an abundance of happiness--for everyone else but you.
My pastor, JR Vassar, said something this past Sunday that keeps rolling around in my brain: "Our culture is obsessed with an 'I will be happy when' existence."
Yes, that so accurately sums it up. I will be happy when my hair is fuller and bouncier. I will be happy when my house looks like that one on HGTV. I will be happy when my marriage is as exciting and romantic as the one in that movie. I will be happy when my kids are feeding starving children in Africa as they pull a 4.0 grade point average. I will be happy when I get the accolades due me. I will be happy when these toddlers quit sucking all my energy. I will be happy when I earn more, have more, and do more.
Our culture is obsessed with this mentality, fed by a constant connection of information via modern technology. And I admit it here: I've been as sucked into it as the next person.
Oh, yes. I've sat on that church pew my whole life, claiming to follow Jesus. And secretly (or maybe not so secretly) worshiping at the altar of "I will be happy when."
I will be happy when I'm finally a teenager and can drive. I will be happy when I'm a grown up and can make my own decisions. I will be happy when I finish college. I will be happy when I find a good job. I will be happy when I finally get to marry my college sweetheart.
Then, it became I will be happy when we can finally have a baby. I will be happy when my baby sleeps through the night. I will be happy when my baby doesn't require diapers. I will be happy when I have another baby. Yet, now my babies are so big that I actually find myself in a nostalgic frame of mind about all the stages I wished would hurry and pass.
Indeed, the "I will be happy when" existence falls incredibly short in actually bringing any deep sense of fulfillment or satisfaction.
The truth is we've all been duped.
Lest we beat ourselves up, this pursuit of happiness is nothing new. The Israelites thought they'd be happy if they could be freed from captivity. Then, they thought they'd be happy if they could go BACK to it, instead of wandering in the desert. They thought they'd be happy with some food provisions. Then, they complained about the manna and quail diet.
My pastor spoke on Ecclesiastes this past Sunday, showing how even the wise, rich and admirable King Solomon, who had all the status, possessions and power of his day, found that none of it satisfied. He boldly proclaimed that all of it was meaningless, because "only God can bear the burden of being our refuge, salvation and comfort."
Only God can fill the gaps in our souls that feel empty in our constant pursuit of happiness. Yes, we were made for something more. We were created for more than we currently have within our possession. But the "more" that we were made for is not more money, status, power, beauty, acceptance, or fame.
If we obtained all that we are wishing for at this very moment, it would still not be enough. It would not be the happiness we relentlessly pursue, because the "more" we were made for is Christ alone. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "God has planted eternity in the hearts of men."
We are wired for eternity. Yet, we chase down all manners of substitutes instead, and become disillusioned and disenchanted when nothing else fills that space. We tailspin into discontentment, frustration, envy, and depression, taking on a victim mentality or fits of anger, when all our efforts do not bring us the happiness we think we deserve.
Until we recognize the idol of "I'll be happy when," we will never get off the hamster wheel of fruitless pursuits. Let's call it out for what it is: elusive. Then, we might instead use our energy to pursue the God of all eternity--learning to pause long enough to soak in his presence. Lingering over his words. Praying honest and authentic prayers about our deepest struggles. Singing sacrifices of praise even when we don't feel it. Asking Him to be the satisfaction and fulfillment of all of our yearnings.
He promises this in Psalm 16:11: "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
There it is. In the quiet moments of stilling ourselves to perceive his presence, we find joy. We hear the birds sing and know our Father rejoices over us with singing. We see the sunset and know our God paints the skies with his glory. We hold our spouse's hand and remember all we've walked through together. We watch our children learn and grow, and we thank the Lord who entrusted them to us. In all these moments, we experience all the gifts we've been given and know that our God is good.
When we choose to see the here and now as merely a foreshadowing of something More, those are the happy places where we embrace why we were made and acknowledge the One who made us.