Being happy seems to be one of our greatest cultural values. But, do we really know what happiness is? The word happiness has morphed over the past few years into something very different from its original meaning. The phrase that once meant “the good life”, the action of living life in way that was pleasing to God and morally fulfilling, has been replaced with something impossible to maintain, or accurately measure.
Happiness, has been redefined as a changing emotional state based on feelings of euphoria and gratification.
Attempting to live life in such a way as to continually maintain a particular emotional state is narrow at best and in reality, impossible. Our emotions are constantly changing based on our circumstances and state of mind. If happiness is relegated to an emotional state one thing is sure, it will not be lasting.
Trail of tears
Today people are spending vast amounts of time, energy and money in an attempt to create the conditions or environments that they believe will help them “find happiness”. For some it means more stuff. For some it means less stuff. For some it is a relationship or job. For some it is getting out of a relationship or job. In reality it is an exercise of selfishness. A constant attentiveness and commitment to getting what we want above all else.
There are countless stories of men and women who have poured out their lives to obtain what they thought would make them “happy”, only to end up broken and disappointed. The list of actors, athletes and artists who reached the “pinnacle of success”, only to be left disillusioned by the elusive “happiness” is long and sad.
Bait and switch
Our culture’s deceptive and dangerous idea of happiness is little more than an elaborate marketing scheme designed to appeal to the basic broken instincts of humanity. Selfishness, in all of its glorious forms, drives us to a hollow temporal existence of chasing false fulfillment.
Very often we are tempted to take a substitute if we think it will bring the same results as an original. I am the world’s worst when it comes to looking for a “knock-off”. If I think it will save me a few bucks and do the same thing, sign me up. This is a fine approach when we are talking about a “name brand” bottle of water versus a generic. But, when it comes to life, cheap substitutes can be deadly.
Let’s take a look at some of the core needs of humanity and see if our cultural view of happiness fulfills these desires. I have compiled this list from multiple sources, and though the terminology may vary, the needs are universally apparent, and in my opinion, do not contradict what may be observed in a Biblical account of humanity. This is not an exhaustive list.
Purpose/Significance: I combined these two core needs because I believe that they are directly related. Unlike animals, humans need purpose, we are compelled to know the why behind the what. Without purpose, there cannot be significance.
Does an emotional state (happiness) fulfill either of these human needs? No! Emotions may correspond with the fulfilling or lack of fulfillment concerning these needs, however emotions are clearly incapable of generating purpose or significance.
Certainty (consistency, security): This need stands above all others as an example of the inability of the modern concept of happiness to meet the needs of humanity. As I mentioned before, our emotions are subject to a number of different influences, conditions, perceptions and experiences, none over which we ever exercise complete control. Therefore, the security we seek can never be fulfilled by our current cultural concept of “happiness”.
Belonging (identity, acceptance)
Growth (progress, maturity)
So, what is “real” happiness?
The original concept of happiness was a life of contentment based on the fulfillment of human need. The meeting of these concrete needs puts to rest vacillating emotions based on fear, uncertainty and discontentment.
So, what has happened?
As our culture adopts humanistic and atheistic perspectives we find ourselves facing real problems with no real provision.
The removal of the solution (God) does not do away with the need, it only leaves humanity to face real issues with false hope. So, we reach and search for anything that we think will fill the void, when nothing works, we choose to substitute a feeling for fulfillment.
What’s the solution?
God’s way often stands in contrast to conventional thinking. We think if we put ourselves first, we will be happy and fulfilled. God’s way is very different. God says as we get ourselves off of our minds we will find what we really need.
Matthew 6:33 (GW)
33 But first, be concerned about his kingdom and what has his approval. Then all these things will be provided for you.
If you have been looking for happiness or fulfillment outside of God’s plan, please understand that there is no real substitute. No relationship, possession or achievement can ever replace the fulfillment and security found in Jesus Christ.
Questions to consider
1. How do you define happiness?
2. Who or what is “first” in your life?
3. Where are, you looking for fulfillment?