The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness is universally valued as a measure of quality of life.
In 1776 Thomas Jefferson established the universal right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. The UN values it highly enough to declare happiness a universal goal. We strive for personal happiness and self-fulfillment, whether that be through pursuing the big things in life; wealth, status, good relationships, a stable family, or through the little things; a flourishing garden, a good book, a sunny afternoon.
However, while granting us the emotive state of happiness, this act of self-fulfillment is, as it says, an entirely selfish act. Our own happiness (whether that be based on someone else’s happiness or not) becomes the centre of our lives. We become our own gods. We constantly seek the next thing that will make us happy. We believe that we have a right to happiness. As with all rights we expect to walk through life holding our rights out in front of us as a key to unlock doors.
It is therefore no surprise that when this right to happiness eludes us we feel that the world has let us down. We feel that life has treated us unfairly and that our right to happiness has been violated. The happiness we seek becomes circumstantial and a never-ending chase for fulfilment. We isolate ourselves. The very act of pursuing happiness can take a nasty turn down the road of loneliness and to a perpetual state of escaping unhappiness.
This morbid cycle of emotions is not as it should be. Happiness as it has become is not happiness as it was intended to be. We have made happiness the emotion of our relationship with our circumstances. Through this fragile and temporal equation we expect to be fulfilled.
In the beginning happiness was the result of being in an unbroken, blessed relationship with our creator, God the Father. It is in that relationship that we were made to seek happiness through different kinds of relationships, with people, with things. Whereas that relationship had been broken, Jesus brings us back into that relationship with God. He restores us through His Holy Spirit to true happiness. This true happiness is not circumstantial.
It does not mean life becomes easy and therefore we can be happy. In fact Jesus promises that as his followers we will be rejected, we will suffer, we will be despised - all things that we might imagine a failure in our pursuit of happiness. The Bible asks us to give up our rights to all those things that would make us ‘happy’ and lay them down. True happiness does not mean that we will be in a constant state of elation. In fact we will understand pain and hurt in a far richer way.
C.S Lewis famously said:
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
This happiness is counter cultural to our reference point for happiness. Our reference point to happiness is no longer that of our constantly changing circumstances, it is not an emotional state of fulfillment. Our reference point to happiness becomes a relationship with an unchanging, unfailing God.
True happiness does not rely on an elated reaction to circumstances or an emotional state of gladness. True happiness is being utterly content and utterly obedient in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.