Are you happy?
Maybe this is a question you think about a lot. Maybe your focus is so often on self-improvement – on how you can tweak your life in order to find that feeling of contentment.
I think we’ve been sold a lie about happiness. I think that in so many ways culture tells us that this is our whole purpose in life; the end point that we should be aiming at. Look at our flawless Instagram pictures. Think about the ‘travel the world’ adverts that bombard us, or the variations on 5 Steps to Success and Happiness we read in magazines. Think about the fairytale rom-coms that are churned out every year, or the living for the weekend lifestyle that tells us we need to be having an epic time. Life is about self-improvement, Pinteresting our homes, exercising to look better, finding hobbies we enjoy and nice things to fill our time. Treating ourselves. All great things. But the purpose that can be behind some of these things worries me. We can start to make happiness an idol in our lives; the compass by which we guide ourselves. The way we even sometimes sell the gospel is through implying it will make us happy. In short, we can almost have a sense that we are entitled to happiness, and when it eludes us we become angry with the world and at God.
Aiming at happiness tells the couple who are persevering and working at a difficult marriage that they are failing. It tells us that we need to give our children the most magical and fun-filled childhoods. When did parenting become about making our children happy instead of preparing them for life as an adult? It tells the committed *insert any job here*, who is fed up of her job, but still leaves her house every day to serve other people, that she/he is failing. For me, as a stay-at-home mum who spends a lot of time doing ‘mum’ things and boring jobs, that I am missing out on something. It makes the person bed-bound by illness feel purposeless. It makes sacrifice seem weak. It makes the person who chooses a life of celibacy, or who moves to an area where they are lonely, or who cares for a sick loved one, feel like life has passed them by.
It is creating in us a fear of commitment. How can we commit to things if we are not sure that they will make us happy? How do we know we will stay happy in our relationships when we get married? How can we follow God to a new calling when we don’t know how we will feel about it? How can we plan ahead and say yes to invitations out if we don’t know how we will feel at the time?
Here’s the thing: I’m not saying we all need to stay at home and live grey, mundane and more realistic lives. I believe with all my heart that fun, adventure, laughing from our bellies, contentment and living life to the full are all part of God’s kingdom. Happiness can take us by surprise and illuminate all of God’s goodness, and those are the mountain-top experiences of life. But when it becomes our goal in life; our main purpose for doing all that we do, then it becomes toxic. Circumstance will soon take us and we will find ourselves with a sense of failure and anger at God who owes us more than this. I should know, I’ve been there.
Our goal in life should be holiness, both for ourselves and of others. Loving others until they become who they were created to be. Sticking with God no matter what. Putting Him first. That means that in the good times and in the crappy times, we can know that God’s purpose in us is not failing. We have not been forgotten by him. The couple in the difficult marriage can find themselves refined and redeemed. The struggling nurse can hold her head high because she is making an impact on the lives of so many. The child who isn’t shielded from every bump can grow up knowing how to deal with life. The stay at home mum/dad can know that their sacrifice is worth it. The person working to provide for their children can know their sacrifice pays off. The person bedbound with illness can know that God has not forgotten them, and people who endure such things that will find themselves first in the kingdom of heaven. And it is in letting go of that desperate search for happiness and fulfillment that I believe we will find it surprising us in the most unlikely of places.