Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Roman historian, Tacitus, observed that “There are many men who appear to be struggling against Adversity, and yet are happy; but yet more, who, although abounding in Wealth, are miserable.” His observations about happiness, or lack thereof, have not changed much over the centuries. A friend who has been on several short term mission trips to Haiti recently noted that although the people of Haiti live in extreme poverty and have deplorable living conditions, they are very happy. He then said that many people he knows here in the states, although having a much higher standard of living, are basically unhappy with the quality of their lives.

Such an ironic twist! Those whom we would think have no right to be happy are happy, while those we would except to be happy because they have the good things of life, aren’t! Why does happiness seem to be so elusive in our society today? Two thoughts come to mind. People who are happy tend to have a purpose outside of themselves. It is usually found in having a relationship with God and in caring for and serving others. These are often people who have a deep faith and dependence on God, greatly appreciating the things they receive as a gift from God. They don’t merely take things for granted, but receive them with thankful hearts. They freely give to others, whether of their possessions, or time. They find joy in serving others.

Why does our society seem so unhappy? We have bought into the slogans such as “Grab all the gusto you can” and “Look out for number one” etc. Focusing upon self-centeredness robs us of the ability to truly be happy. Self is a hard taskmaster who never satisfies. It leads us to obsession with our rights and the continual drive to always want more. We are never satisfied. We become narcissistic, seeking only our own personal pleasure, even at the expense of others. Self-centeredness destroys relationships with others, as we find ourselves envying their good fortune. Focusing upon our selves opens up a great void that is never able to be filled; one which leads us to spiral downward into the blackness of despair and unhappiness, never to be satisfied, consumed with always wanting more. The resulting dissatisfaction only leads us to a more desperate search for that seemingly elusive state of happiness, one which we can see but can never grasp. It is always just beyond the horizon, enticing us onward in an illusive pursuit, much like searching for the end of the rainbow.

To find true happiness requires getting out of self, having a purpose which is other centered, in service to God and mankind. It is in the process of serving others and making a difference in their lives that we discover joy and contentment. We must seek the good of others more than of our own. Only then will we find the satisfaction and joy of true happiness. We have been created by God to live this way, to live in community, because God himself is in a communal relationship as Father, Son and Spirit and desires to have a communal relationship with us. Jesus, during his brief three years of ministry, established a model of service for us to follow. It is a model based on love and relationships. It is only in abandoning our selves in loving and serving others that we truly find the contentment of happiness. It’s time to ask ourselves, what am I looking for to provide happiness in my life?

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