We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- The Declaration of Independence
Note that the writers of the Declaration made a distinction between Life, Liberty and Happiness.
- We have a right to life.
- We have a right to liberty.
- We don't have a right to be happy. We only have a right to pursue happiness. There is no guarantee that we will find it.
There is much written about the pursuit of happiness and the surest avenue that one must take to obtain it. Unfortunately, the hucksters and peddlers of this world have convinced many that the way to find gladness, peace, and joy (other names for happiness) is through the stockpiling of goods or money, power or security. The level of indebtedness, fatigue, and disillusionment in this country should have convinced us by now that there must be a better way.
I offer, therefore, three pursuits that the Bible says will lead us to happiness. There is no guarantee of wealth, or absence of trouble in these, but in the pursuit of happiness these three will guarantee that you are on the right track.
Three Things to Make You Happy
1. Find Something Worthwhile to Do.
When you examine your day it's easy to see that your working life takes up most of your time and thus most of your life. Many choose to do what they do simply because it pays or it pays well. Others work at the only job they can get. Still others work at what is easiest or what they like to do. But happiness is produced when we are satisfied that what we do is worthwhile. Solomon put it this way,
I have seen that nothing is better than that a man should be happy in his activities (or work).
- Ecclesiastes 3:22
This is a difficult issue because not everybody has the freedom to leave their job or responsibilities and pursue some other career that makes them happy. There are issues of responsibilities, opportunity, time, age, etc. But the fact that this area is so important should be a warning to young people who are planning their futures, and a wakeup call to those who continue to make themselves miserable because what they work at is not worthwhile. Many have realized this and made the adjustments that have given more meaning to their lives.
Some, who cannot change their type of work, have found worthwhile things to do outside of work to provide meaningfulness in their lives. Others have made complete career shifts (i.e. I went back to college when I was 35 in order to go into ministry). Still others begin to find new purpose in what they do in order to make their work more satisfying. For example, my mother was a waitress for over fifty years. For twenty-five of those years she did it for money (her lack of education limited her choices). At some point she decided that in addition to serving her customers food, she would also try to cheer them up and make their day better while being served by her. She explained to me that this attitude shift made a mundane task worthwhile and doubled her tips too!
The pursuit of happiness requires us to cut away activities that serve selfish ambitions and the agenda of godless men, and invest ourselves in worthwhile things, meaningful work, and noble enterprises.
The pursuit of happiness requires us to…
2. Find Someone to Love
I am often critical of the media because of its excessive worldliness and promotion of sinful things. But one thing the media has done is to demonstrate how badly people need love. Nowadays:
- Even well-meaning vampires are in love.
- TV comedies are usually about love.
- Songs speak of love won or lost.
- Book racks are filled with romance novels.
- Millions are looking for a "soul-mate" online.
We love "love" and can't get enough stories, songs, and novels about it. The problem is that the main feeling you go away with is, "Wouldn't it be great if someone loved me this way?" Finding someone to love me is not the way to be happy. Romantic love is not a guarantee of happiness. In most cases it is a prelude to sex. Happiness is produced when we find someone else to love; anybody!
- The neglected neighbor.
- The lonely kid in your class.
- The widow(er).
- The family member who is troubled.
- The person in the nursing home or hospital.
- The stranger at church.
You see, it's not the getting of love that creates happiness, it's the giving of love that creates a happy heart. Receiving love is comforting, encouraging, enjoyable, satisfying, pleasurable, etc. Giving love, on the other hand, is God-like, selfless, pure, holy, good, and righteous, and it is these kinds of elements that produce a happy heart.
Solomon echoes this idea in Proverbs 14:21 when he says,
But happy is he who is gracious to the poor.
So many are frustrated and miserable because they think that the reason for their unhappiness is because they have found no one to love them. The truth of the matter is that the potential for happiness is within each of us and tied directly to the degree we extend our love towards others, not how others love us.
The great pursuit for happiness requires us to…
3. Find the Right Things to Hope for.
In the poem "The Inferno" by Dante, the poet describes the different levels of hell and the various types of people and punishments that await sinners. At one of the lower levels there is a sign that awaits all those who descend. It reads, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." Dante - III 1.9
I suppose that this is probably the worst psychological punishment a person could endure — the absence of hope, no chance for change, no reprieve, no opportunity for rescue.
Another situation which is not as painful, but just as useless, is hoping in the wrong things or the wrong people. The world is full of broken dreams and shattered hopes because of the uncertainty of life and the inherent sinfulness of people and things.
God doesn't discourage us from hoping or yearning for good things that lie in the future. He merely directs us to place our hope on things that will not disappoint, on the Person who can satisfy our hope. God directs us to hope in:
- The mercy of God - Psalms 33:18
- The accuracy of God's word - Psalms 119:74
- The resurrection of the body - Acts 23:6
- The righteousness that comes by faith in Christ - Galatians 5:5
- The eternal life that awaits believers - Colossians 1:5
- The Christ and Savior, Jesus - Colossians 1:27
We can be sure of these things. There will be no disappointment for those who rely on these things, who hunger and thirst for these things. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, "Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
When your hope rests on the King of Kings and things of the Kingdom, you will be happy now and not disappointed later.
What I propose here is not a formula or a quick fix that can be taken like a vitamin so you can feel happy by next week. What I propose means a change in the way you think and the way you live. Happiness effects your entire life so it requires your entire life to produce it. For example:
A. Doing something worthwhile requires that you abandon something useless or less worthwhile that you are engaged in at the moment. It's not that you have all this extra time and energy to suddenly invest into some worthwhile endeavor. For something new to come in, something old must go. The problem is that we'd rather be unhappy in familiar surroundings than risk something new, different, or less profitable in order to be happier.
B. Becoming a person who gives love rather than someone who seeks love is also quite risky:
- It requires dying to self.
- It's inconvenient and expensive.
- It means giving to people who haven't asked and may not say thank you.
- It may demand that you love your enemy.
The happiness that comes from Christian love is not based on what we get back, it's based on what we become from doing it. Becoming more like Christ in loving others is not only pleasing to God but inherently pleasing to self, which becomes a source of endless happiness.
C. Setting your hope on things above rather than on things below sounds simple, but the shift in emphasis dramatically impacts our daily lives. It means:
- Reordering our priorities.
- Changing our style of living.
- Giving up our constant desire for the things of this world in order to reach out for the things of the next.
Jesus summarizes it best when He says,
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
- Matthew 6:21
Is your treasure making your heart unhappy? Maybe it's time to seek another kind of treasure that will never disappoint and that no one can take away or spoil. Are you troubled because there is no purpose, no love, no value in your life? Jesus says, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest."