Happiness can be a great thing. But the pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand.
The thing is though, try as we might, we often have very little control over our situation in life. And when we do, it’s usually not for very long. “Life happens,” as they say, and if you live long enough, you’ll notice life happening quite a bit.
Life is full of changes. Change is perhaps the only constant, and with things constantly being in a state of flux, our ability to always be happy is as fluid concept at best.
And while I certainly like being happy, my goal in life isn’t to be happy.
Jesus once said, “What does it profit a man if He gains the whole world, but loses His own soul?” (Mark 8:36) While you and I are seldom in danger of becoming the king of the world and gaining everything, we are often tempted to try and become masters of the little bubbles we find ourselves living in.
That is our temptation: To try and get everything we can in this life so that we can be happy. And as a result of trying to gain everything we can, we find ourselves lying, cheating, stealing, and doing whatever is necessary to achieve that end. We take whatever moral shortcuts we deem necessary, all so that we can find ourselves fulfilled. And in the process, we lose our souls.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against happiness. I believe God created this world so that we might love God and enjoy Him and this world forever. After all, God did place Adam and Eve in a literal paradise.
But what we think will often make us happy is nothing more than a mere counterfeit. It’s a bait and switch that the devil plays with our hearts. We want love, but we end up having an affair. We want a promotion at work, but we lie on our resumes. We want peace of mind, but we constantly plot how we can get more.
The pursuit of happiness isn’t always a good thing. It might be embedded in our national DNA as Americans and in the Declaration of Independence. But it shouldn’t be the essence of what we are after in life. Tonight I could eat all the chocolate in the world and wash it down with a bottle of bourbon. That might make me happy, but it wouldn’t exactly be good for me either.
In an article I recently read by John Gorman on Medium.com, he said the following:
Happiness is a cigarette. Peace is a clear lung.
Happiness is sex. Peace is love.
Happiness is a Lexus. Peace is a 401K.
Happiness is a wine buzz. Peace is sobriety.
Happiness is what’s best. Peace is what’s right.
Happiness is temporary. Peace is forever.
Happiness is doing something you know you shouldn’t, because you can. Peace is doing something you think you can’t, because you should.
Happiness is floating in the crystal-clear Pacific Ocean, water lapping against your back, saltwater seeping into and out of your pores, the hypnotic rush of the waves and a symphony of seagulls. Peace is what allows you to notice it all.”
I think if one is to find happiness, it’s only to be found in a heart that’s full of joy, and a life marked by an inner peace that no storm can destroy.
Instead of pursuing happiness, my goal in life is the pursue a heart marked by peace. It’s a life marked by virtue and integrity, knowing that I gave my best and my all, that I loved God and loved my neighbor as myself. It’s a life that allowed a spirit of thankfulness to rule my heart, and being content with whatever my lot is in life.
It’s a resignation that in spite of my best intentions, life may not always work out in the way I’d like it to work out. Indeed, sometimes life can deal us a cruel hand, and can be down right miserable, as things outside our control simply overwhelm us. War, poverty, sickness, and all sorts of other hellish things can simply sweep us away and drown us in the depths of the misery they bring.
We may never truly be happy in this life. And knowing such, it makes the pursuit of happiness a strange sorta thing. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should be happy as Divine providence allows us. And for most of us, we will have ample opportunity to be happy.
My life, in spite of some deep sorrows, has largely been a happy one. I’m very fortunate in that regard. But I’ve seldom sought as the center of my focus to be happy.
What I have instead done, is sought to love God and love others to the best of my ability, to do whatever the right thing is whenever I know to do it, and to simply be thankful for my lot in life. And in doing such, even when I have found myself in a pretty dark place, and when life simply isn’t going my way, I have found that there is a joy that abides in me. And that joy is greater than any level of happiness I have ever known.