Editorial: December 2010
Most of us are in search of happiness. Some may find happiness in good food, some in some books, others in music. We search for happiness all our lives. Back in 1776, when the pursuit of happiness was enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, happiness was an uncomplicated pursuit. Today it is a separate reality. Nearly 20% of Americans experience some form of depression during their life-time, a statistic that has become fairly universal. Living in an age of instant gratification, economic flux, fierce competition and fragile egos, happiness is increasingly elusive. Martin Seligman pioneered the theory that happiness has three dimensions-the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life.
"Pursuit of happiness is a ridiculous phrase; if you pursue happiness, you will never find it. They alone are truly happy who are seeking to be righteous. Put happiness in the place of righteousness and you will never get it." "Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you." "Seek happiness and you will never find it. Seek righteousness and you will discover you are happy. It will be there without your knowing it, without your seeking it."
For decades, the chorus was, "Our best chance for happiness is education." But education has not been able to deliver on the ultimate. Hence they have now started teaching happiness. At Harvard, there is now a course which addresses questions such as, "Does money bring happiness? Does happiness have a favourite sex? Does happiness vary by culture?" Not surprisingly, there is no dearth of takers. It is learnt that Harvard had to look for an auditorium to accommodate the 700 students that enrolled for the course. The University of Pennsylvania is offering a master's degree in happiness! I wonder, "Can happiness be taught?"
Solomon, the wisest man, sought knowledge, but found no lasting satisfaction; the world was full of problems that could not be solved. Life is full of paradoxes and anomalies that cannot be deciphered. The last word of human wisdom, as some of the wisest have realised, is to confess that we know nothing, that the key to the final mystery eludes our grasp. All our knowledge serves only to discover our diseases and miseries, but is often utterly insufficient to heal or remove them; it cannot rectify those confusions and disorders which are either in our own hearts and lives, or in the people and things around us. To live on earth without recognition of the supreme wisdom which begins and continues in the fear of Jehovah, to deal only with that hemisphere which is 'under the sun,' is indeed to find things of exceeding wonder, beauty and power; but it is to find nothing that satisfies, and to be left at last without any reality, to find only vanity, vapour and emptiness.
Then Solomon devoted himself to amassing wealth. But he discovered that "all was vanity and a striving after wind" (Eccl.2:4-11). "If you do not enjoy what you have now, how can you be happier with more?" "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." "Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get." He came to the conclusion that "there is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink." Yet he was forced to accept that "this was also striving after wind." This shows that a man richly endowed in himself, living in the midst of marvellous things, knowledge, mirth, and wealth finds nothing in them. He is starved, homeless, despairing. This happens to every person who forgets God. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "Happiness does not depend on the actual number of blessings we manage to scratch from life, but on our attitude toward them." For modern man, the drive to attain economic prosperity has assumed overriding importance, obscuring all other aspects.
The fancied satisfaction of mammonism, which conceives of man's life as consisting in the abundance of the things which he possesses, is a mirage which recedes continually. The lust of acquisitiveness, once unleashed, becomes insatiable, and the appetite grows with acquiring. Capitalism can thrive only on an expanding market; the circle of supply and demand, however expanded, remains a circle; it can never become a square. Moreover, acquisitiveness brings anxiety, for wealth is uncertain (1Tim.6:17); the bubble of prosperity bursts, and slump follows boom. Finally, the rich man breathes his last, and what good is all his wealth to him, then?
Are we then to commend renunciation? The good things of the world are God's gifts to be enjoyed by us with thankfulness and contentment. "Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving" (1Tim.4:4).
When intellectual faculties failed him, Solomon turned to pleasure as a possible source of satisfaction. He provided himself with wine, women and songs, with luxuries, buildings and gardens. He found that this was also vanity (Eccl.2:1-3). Although these brought him pleasures for the moment, he did not get enduring satisfaction. He was disgusted with life and toil. He found that it was all useless. Someday he must leave all the results of his diligent work to someone who might be careless, or perhaps to one who had done nothing to deserve them. The road he had travelled was not worth the effort and discomfort it produced. "Happiness is a matter of my attitude. Happiness begins in the head." St. Augustine said, "Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure. Where your treasure is, there is your heart. Where your heart is, there is your happiness."
All earthly goals and blessings, when pursued as ends in themselves, lead to dissatisfaction and emptiness. The highest good in life lies in reverencing and obeying God, and in enjoying life while one can. It is only when man looks out upon circumstances from the standpoint of fellowship with God, and knowledge of Him, that life can be optimistic. "We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it, than to consume wealth without producing it."
The Western world has discovered that money cannot buy us happiness. In fact, studies show that beyond a certain point, money undermines happiness. "Economic resources are not all that matter in peoples' lives," warns Angel Gurria, Secretary General of OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). Yet, as a convenient marker of national economic health, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) tends to dominate discussions of how nations rank against one another. The problem is that so much social and political importance is read into a single figure that focusses exclusively on market activities. What is not bought or sold does not figure in the estimation of GDP. The numbers are disaster-prone: hurricanes and floods push up GDP because the reconstruction gets factored in as new spending. Countries with more prisons look better than those with fewer. If corporations and the very rich are doing well, that can skew the averages to make it look as if everyone is prospering, when, in fact, the majority is not. The global fixation on GDP growth implies that all consumption is good even if it means dooming future generations to a declining quality of life. True measure of prosperity should be based on a broader understanding of happiness.
A global happiness survey in 150 countries, conducted every year since 2005, has concluded that there are five essential elements that induce well-being: job satisfaction, social networking, financial well-being, physical well-being and community well-being. A key element in leading a happy life is making a contribution to the larger community: it benefits both the giver and the receiver.
In early 2008 the French President Sarkozy brought together a few Nobel laureates and some experts in economics to consider matters related to economic performance and social progress. They concluded that the time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring peoples' well-being. There is need for a new analytical approach in government statistics to the way people spend their time, in effect 'a measure of happiness.' The new 'dashboard' should include dials which measure quality of life, environmental impact, depletion of resources, and the like. Policy makers should be able to know how far they are able to go, not just how fast.
Every joy becomes a mockery, every pleasure a delusion and every hope a mirage. It is only when we know God, and live in His fear, that we come to understand that all these discords will at last be resolved into perfect harmony. "Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it." It is only when life is conditioned by spiritual facts and forces that it is delivered from despair. "Happiness is not in doing what one likes, but liking what one has to do."
It is only when man begins with the knowledge of God, coming by revelation rather than by investigation, that he escapes from this crushing sense of a destiny which leaves him no room for action. Helen Keller said, "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."
Seeing things above the sun, beyond the material, it is evident that the righteous man reaps the reward of righteousness, and the wicked man that of wickedness. In the very solemn and revealing story of the rich man and Lazarus, our Lord showed that the final meaning of life is never found on this side of death. The issues of deeds done in the body are reached beyond the separation. We discover the folly of all such indifference in attempting to interpret life by things seen, which are temporal, and ignoring things unseen, which are eternal. Theory and practice will remain at variance as long as we are under the sun. The reconciliation, the resolution of the discord, awaits the time when faith will give place to sight and every hidden thing will be revealed.
Human existence, when lived apart from God, is frustrating and unsatisfactory. All of the pleasures and material things of life, when sought for their own sake, bring nothing but unhappiness and a sense of futility. "The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved."
Life in its wholeness takes in the things above the sun, the spiritual facts and forces; it begins with the fear of God, and brings that fear to bear upon all the other facts and forces, by walking in His commandments. When he finds God, he finds also the joy and fullness of life in every aspect. To him life becomes a song and gladness: it is full and joyous. "No one is born happy. Happiness is something that comes to you." "Happiness is living by inner purpose, not by outer pressures. Happiness is a happening-with-God." Apart from God, we cannot have happiness.
Most people are happy off and on, depending on happenings in their lives. It should not be so with us Christians. Other people may act or speak out of malice, deceit, selfishness and indifference. We must not let such actions deprive us of our happiness. We are injuring ourselves by allowing negative emotions to dominate us. "If your happiness depends on what somebody else says, you have a problem."
We are happy because of what happened in Bethlehem twenty centuries ago. God sent His Son into the world to save us from our sins. He died on the cross at Calvary to redeem us. He is able to keep us and present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. So, we can always be happy, here and in eternity.