What Makes You Happy?
“We are generous with what we have, sharing freely with others.”
Some of the discussion questions try to get at the heart of the age-old quandary of money being able to buy happiness – using phrases such as “would you rather be rich and have no friends or have friends and no money” and others like that. The children have gone back and forth in their discussions with us, having some interesting answers and generally agreeing that money isn’t the most important thing. Jonathan (age 5), on the other hand, has, through all of the discussions, remained adamant that being rich would indeed make him happy.
Through stories and examples, we’ve tried to contrast the concept of being rich vs. having simply the things we need. With his face contorted in serious confusion, he continues to ask, “Why WOULDN’T being rich make you happy? How CAN you be happy if you have no THINGS?”
We smile (inside) and try not to chuckle when he says these things, because although we have all heard the cliche “Money can’t buy happiness”, sometimes we all still struggle to answer the same questions as Jonathan.
Do not overwork to be rich;
Because of your own understanding, cease!
Will you set your eyes on that which is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings;
They fly away like an eagle toward heaven. ~ Proverbs 23:4-5
Yes, yes, we know this.
And we’ve all read these words of Jesus-
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. – Matthew 6:21-23
Have you ever read the above verses and said to yourself “I don’t worry about what I’m going to eat, drink or wear, and I definitely don’t overwork to be rich. I’m doing fine in this area.”
(I know that I have.)
And yet, I’ve been pondering this lately–
In our modern, enlightened (and relatively wealthy) society, many of us “no longer” have to fret ourselves over the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. We are freed up to pursue (worship?) the loftier ideas of goals, objectives, achievement and the pursuit of perfection. You can find websites, books, courses, and seminars that will help you to set fantastic goals and achieve fantastic results!
Not many people will object to the need for setting goals and neither will I. Goals are good and necessary. Especially the ones we see mentioned in scripture!
However, is our obsession with goal setting and the subsequent chasing after those lofty goals a thinly disguised way of seeking after happiness in the wrong places? Could we be doing the same thing that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6?
Do we somehow think that if we could only –
~ find the perfect mate
~ find the perfect curriculum (for my children’s sake, of course!)
~ find the perfect church (no hypocrisy or division, please!)
~ be our ideal weight
~ be a stay at home mom
~ live in the country
~ find a better job/career
~ have peace among extended family members
~ etc, etc, etc……
– THEN we would be happy?
I’ve been guilty of this. I see something way off in the distance that I think would bring more happiness (or peace, stability, sanity) to my life and I start to pursue it relentlessly. I plan, make lists, read books about and focus on how I can make that goal a reality. I keep thinking that if I can just get there, I will feel better!
In our history studies this week, we’ve been reading about Petrarch and his quest for happiness. An Italian man living in the Renaissance period of history, he was expert on classic Roman writings. He himself wanted to become a great writer and worked hard to become one. His dream was realized when, at the ripe old age of 37, he was crowned “poet laureate” by his peers in the ruins of the old Roman capitol . But although he was famous, he found that his fame did not make him happy. So, he continued on his quest for more knowledge about Ancient Rome through the writings of its historians. He began to believe that he was born in the wrong age and therefore, this was why he was not happy. If only he could have been born a thousand years earlier, he would be happy! He became obsessed with the ancient time and unhappily dwelt on it for much of the remainder of his life.
However, a few years before his death, he penned a letter to posterity (anyone in the future who would be curious about him) and said this:
“Youth deceived me ; manhood carried me away ; but old age corrected me, and by experience taught me thoroughly that truth which I had long before studied, namely, that youth and pleasure are vanities.”
Petrarch didn’t find happiness in achieving his lofty goals. Why?
Is it even possible for us to find happiness? Will we ever be able to find that one thing that makes us happy? Are we making the same mistake as Petrarch in believing that achieving physical goals will bring us happiness?
Honestly, I’m not here to tell you the absolute secret to happiness. That’s this lady’s job.
However, I wanted to share with you two worthwhile goals that I believe will not leave us empty if we pursue them.
#1 – SERVING OTHERS
When I was a child, I remember my mom telling us children that when we served other people, we would experience feelings of happiness. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about this theory, especially as a hormonal teenager. However, I remember secretly testing her theory when I was feeling grumpy/depressed/out of it. Maybe I would clean my brother’s room to surprise him, or wash the dishes for my mom when I knew she was extra tired. Amazingly, as I did these things, my mood improved dramatically. How could this be? I remember thinking to myself. I’m not the one benefiting from a clean room!
Serving someone (other than myself) actually made a difference in my outlook, demeanor and sense of well-being.
I’ve found this principle to be consistent throughout my life. Through my childhood and teenage years, I would sometimes use this proven “technique” as self-therapy. Had my mom come up with some wonderful secret knowledge of happiness? Should she have written a book and made millions?
“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.‘” – Acts 20:35
Oh, I guess it had already been said.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Too easy of a goal to pursue?
Yes, that’s nice. I’ll work in the soup kitchen on an occasional weekend or volunteer at the animal shelter once in a while, but I’m talking about everyday life, here, Anna! I must have lofty goals for myself or I’ll never accomplish anything in life!
I’m talking about everyday life, too. Finding ways to serve others every day, no matter your station or situation, is a worthwhile occupation of your time, more so than any of your other (seemingly more important) goals.
Let’s consider these verses:
“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This sounds like serious business to God. It wasn’t just a sacrifice of money that the Lord was interested in, it was also hospitality, time spent visiting the lonely, sick and imprisoned and encouragement to others.
The wonderful way this works, though, is that while being pleasing to God, we, in turn, find joy.
# 2 – BEING THANKFUL
I had a really hard time on the weekends when I was first married. You see, in my teenage and single years, I had become accustomed to doing lots of visiting or taking exciting day trips every single weekend. My new husband didn’t share my view of an ideal weekend. Instead, he had lots of household projects to do and besides that, he wanted to stay home and relax after working hard all week.
It became a huge source of contention for many, many months every time the weekend rolled around as I continued to seek happiness by doing exciting things. What finally put an end to my complaining and pity-partying was gratitude. I decided to begin to be thankful for the things that Dan was accomplishing around the house for me! I chose to focus on how wonderful it was that I had a husband who was such a hard worker and provided me for everything I needed and was able to give him the grace and rest he needed on the weekend. This shift in focus toward thankfulness changed my weekends. And when Dan decided that we should go out and do things occasionally, I was thankful for those as well!
I’ve written many times about gratitude here on my blog, so I won’t keep talking about it now. If you’re skeptical that gratitude is something that would make a huge difference in your life, please read “Is a thankful list for everyone“?
* You can find my daughter’s blog at wheremytreasureis.wordpress.com