The strive for happiness is, for many, the ultimate goal. We’re striving because we’re starving. We’re missing something we know we should/could have, but it continues to evade us. We try one thing after another, listen to one motivational speaker after another, and watch one inspirational YouTube video after another hoping to fill ourselves up on happiness. It’s not working. Why?
It’s a big question, but a few things are clear. It’s hard because many don’t know what happiness is. That is, we think happiness is a certain lifestyle – a great job, spouse, money. Or we think if we achieve X (fame, notoriety, goals, whatever), we’ll be happy. We strive and we strive, and things may even seem happy for a bit, but it doesn’t last.
Some of us are more calculated about happiness. We work hard to live a balanced life – eating right, socializing, meditating, spending time with nature, keeping the mind sharp, exploring spiritual stuff…etc. But this too works only for a little while, and never completely. And so we try more things, continually trying to fix our unhappiness. Ultimately, we fall short.
Our approach is wrong. Thinking external things will bring inner happiness never works. Study after study shows this. Even lottery winners go back to their previous levels of happiness within six months. Perhaps this is obvious to some, but many spend their lives chasing externals expecting ecstasy to envelope them endlessly. The others who are calculated about achieving happiness are on the never-ending and exhausting path of saving themselves. In other words, they’ll trudge and trudge and summon their inner resources to achieve bliss, but eventually collapse from the weight of such a task.
In light of the above approaches, a clarification of happiness may help. The words we’re looking for are complete, total, well-rounded, deep, lasting, inner happiness. Right? I mean that’s really what we mean when we say we want to be happy. And who wouldn’t want this! We want the real deal – we’re tired of the little bits and pieces.
Now, this is just a high level overview of just a couple approaches many seek to find happiness, including myself. We also have to look at happiness blockers. Bad things can happen to us externally. These things can be out of our control and can certainly affect our mood. But, outside of major life-changing upsets, natural disasters, war…etc, the externals are not the blockers. The real happiness blockers are inside us, and we’re quite familiar with them.
The happiness blockers on the inside are our pride and ego that create so much turmoil, animosity, and hatred. This can occur personally, socially, nationally, and globally. We’re full of anger, rage, and contempt – even for people we purportedly love! Then there’s greed, envy, and jealousy galore. We walk around consumed with toxic thoughts and we don’t even know it – sometimes before our feet even hit the floor in the morning.
And what about our anxiety and stress. They’re so prevalent they’re accepted as a normal part of life. Or how about when we get criticized or rejected – we’re devastated! We don’t feel good enough. We don’t measure up. In the words of Wayne and Garth, We’re not worthy!
How can we be happy with all this crap inside us? A better question is how the heck do we get it out of us? Do we really think we can do this on our own, or with external things?
The lasting happiness that we seek requires repairing our hearts and minds – it’s a big job. Don’t we want hearts that can reach out in love and humility without expecting anything in return? Don’t we want to be able to wish another success – even if it’s greater than our own – and mean it? Wouldn’t that be freeing! Don’t we want to be freed from poisonous thoughts that enslave us and limit our wisdom and our ability to love? Don’t we want to stand on a solid foundation knowing we’re worthy and deeply loved?
Where do we find this kind of love – this kind of acceptance – this kind of healing?
We find it all and much, much more in the gospels and Jesus. The gospels are not advice to get to God. The gospels are an announcement that God has come to us – to help us – to love us – to save us from our prisons of fear and turmoil and suffering. The gospel is not an instruction manual, 12-step guide, or self-help book of how to be a good person. It’s a new flash – God has come near – come check it out and see for yourself.
If God has indeed come near – if what Jesus says about himself is true – then we will find complete, total, well-rounded, deep, lasting, inner happiness in him. But we have to surrender. We have to lay down our arms, and raise up our arms.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson