We all desire happiness. Yet we find that many people today are unhappy. Depression among baby boomers is ten times greater than among previous generations. More and more people are identifying with Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eyeore whose gloomy outlook is expressed in the words “If it is a good day, which I doubt”. Why is our society so unhappy? Experts suggest that it is due to our having lost a sense of purpose. We have become a narcissistic society. We seek personal satisfaction and pleasure. We live in a world where pleasure has replaced purpose. We no longer believe that our lives have an ultimate purpose.
The advertising we hear and see day in and day out constantly bombards us with a message of self gratification. We are told to seek all the gusto in life and to look out for number one. And so we go through life seeking personal pleasure. Yet we are restless. When we look deep into our souls, we find there is a hollow spot inside. Something is missing. There is an uncomfortable void waiting to be filled. It is no wonder that our society is in such a depressed state! Seeking only for self gratification will lead to the unfulfilled desire for more pleasure and happiness. We will always want something better than we have. We strive to keep up with the Jones. In our discontent we seek new spouses, new jobs, new toys, etc. But these new things never bring happiness. We find ourselves more and more unhappy because the hollowness we feel inside is never filled.
Living in a meaningless world devoid of purpose leads to despair. We have nothing to live for. As the philosopher J. P. Moreland has noted “In such a world the difference between Mother Teresa and Saddam Hussein reduces to the difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper.“ In such a world neither can be considered to be better than the other. Everything is without meaning and is purposeless. Without purpose, living for self becomes our only lifestyle choice. When this proves to be illusionary, we will find ourselves asking the questions “Is that all there is?” and “Why bother?” This will always lead us to despair.
Where do we find ultimate purpose in life? It is found in loving God and serving others. It begins with having an intimate relationship with God. It continues with developing relationships with others and serving them. In the midst of these relationships our purpose is often found. In loving God we find the motivation to serve others. In serving others we find true happiness and joy. It is in the giving of oneself that true happiness is found. I am reminded of a friend whose family had escaped the Armenian genocide at the beginning of the twentieth century. He has found real joy in going back and serving the people of that country – people he once hated.
Too often today we seek to serve ourselves, not realizing that self is a cruel taskmaster. It always demands more and more. We never have enough. It leads to perpetual dissatisfaction. But when we serve God and others we find true joy, happiness and contentment. We find that we can have a meaningful purpose to our lives. And that makes all the difference! In the midst of our hustle bustle self orienting world, it is worth from time to time stopping and asking ourselves the questions: “Who am I serving, myself or others?” “What purpose has God given me to live for?”