Monday, February 7, 2011

What makes you happy?

Do you know?  Have you spent a lot of time looking for what makes you happy?  Some people do.  Some people don’t do anything else.  Have you ever known anybody like that?  Solomon was kind of like that.  Searching for happiness became a lifetime quest.   Do you think he found it?
Even with all his wisdom, Solomon looked for happiness in pretty much all the same places that us poor, not-wise people do – education, power, love, fun, food, money…Individually, probably none of us looks in all the places that Solomon did, but, then again, he was a king, he could look everywhere!  Actually, though, I think most of us are doing our best to keep up with Solomon. We have lots of places we can look for happiness.
To make things harder, almost everything in our American “post-Christian” culture screams at us to do more, to buy more, to eat more, to play more.  Look at the commercials on TV – during the day, the ads tell you that this school can help you get the job that will make you happy, or that this lawyer can get you money because someone else has made you unhappy.  In the evening, the ad-writers really get pushy!  You have to drive this car.  You have to drink this drink.  You have to eat at this restaurant.  Just put “happiness” into your favorite search engine and you will find literally millions of hits with titles like: “Finding True Happiness and Self-Actualization”, “Authentic Happiness: Using the new Positive Psychology”, and “How to Be Happy and Have Fun Changing the World”.   Better yet, I found out that there is such a thing as “Gross National Happiness” listed on Wikipedia, about which there are international conferences (three so far).  You’ll also be glad to learn that there is a map of global happiness where you can find out where your country ranks on the continuum of Subjective Well-being (a fancy way of saying “happiness”).  Oh, and this brilliant statement, “Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”  And, of course, this one, “True happiness lies within you.”  Uh-huh.  Anyway, the google search was pretty funny, in general, but also kind of sad.  There are entire organizations devoted completely to defining, finding and quantifying happiness, and, although I didn’t actually check all 55,500,000 hits, not one of the ones I check made any mention of God.  Doesn’t look like we’ve learned much in the all the years between Solomon and today.  Ouch!
When we say we’re looking for happiness, what are we really looking for?  Because happiness, in and of itself, is pretty easy to find, on a moment-by-moment basis.  I mean, an ice cream cone can make me happy.  So does a Marx brothers’ movie, a really good book, a new outfit, and laughing with my family.  So, I’m thinking maybe happiness isn’t the right word for what we’re looking for.  It’s just not a big enough concept.  We’re looking for something higher and deeper and more lasting than happiness.  I think we’re looking for the  “…peace of God, which passeth all understanding, …” Philippians 4:7, and “…a glorious joy that can't be put into words.” 1 Peter 1:8
Those are two things I don’t think you’ll find at the international conference on Gross National Happiness or within yourself.  Those are things that can only come from God.  And I think that’s what Solomon learned and was writing about in Ecclesiastes – there is no happiness or joy or peace outside of a relationship with God. 
Is it possible for us to learn that lesson any other way than experientially?  Can we learn from Solomon, from reading Ecclesiastes?  Or must we each find our own way by stumbling through all of the temporary, earthly happiness traps that Satan sets for us?  Logically, I have to believe that if we weren’t meant to learn from the experiences in the Bible stories, then they wouldn’t be in there! 
So where does that leave us? 
Hopefully, we’re not following the cereal ads and soft drink ads, looking for something as transient as happiness, when what our hearts are really longing for – what Solomon finally realized he couldn’t go on without – is the joy and peace of knowing Jesus as a friend and an advocate.  No amount of experiencing, conferencing or discussing the paths to happiness will get us to where we want to be.  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

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