Happiness – how do we get it?
That’s what we ask ourselves all the time, even if we don’t do it consciously, right?
Obviously, in our leisure time, we pursue hobbies, spend time with those we love, and more. Because we want happiness.
At work, we make money so we can be happy. And even if you have a different reason for making money (providing for a family, getting out of debt, saving up for something, seeking power or influence), it’s still all in the interest of being happy.
I could continue making a list, but I think you get the idea. At all times, conscious or not, we are driving to experience happiness for ourselves and for those around us.
But I believe that obtaining happiness is much more simple than we think. Notice, I didn’t say easier. In fact, I believe it’s much harder than most of us realize. But it is more simple.
What Happiness Is Not
I wanna give props to King Solomon on this one, as he is the author of the book of Ecclesiastes. Most of the ideas I’ve been wrestling with, which eventually became this article, were interpolated from this single book. Ecclesiastes has become my favorite book of the Bible for this very reason.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
What an optimistic way to start the book, right?
The fact is this book is extremely cynical about the world, and it was written at a time of Solomon’s life after he had become old and wise as a king. In fact, multiple sources call him the wisest King who had ever lived.
It was a book he wrote which mused on his personal experiences seeking after happiness. You see, as a king, he literally had anything he could dream of when it came to pleasure and happiness. And near the end of his life, he exclaimed all those things were “Meaningless!” or “Vanity!” as other English translations put it.
Throughout the book he discussed timeless objects of happiness, and I do mean more than hedonistic desires. He did talk about the base urges – drinking alcohol, amassing wealth, buying property, gluttony, narcissism, and plenty and plenty of sex. But even more, he discussed what we might call higher pleasures – enjoying art, finding a way to enjoy your work, pursuing wisdom, and even doing good.
And at the end of it all, he calls it meaningless.
What? How can doing good be meaningless?
Well, what he means is that none of those things completely satisfied him. Those animalistic urges are simple hedonism and no amount of wine or sex can fill you up to where you feel like you’ve had enough for a lifetime. That’s simple enough.
But the higher pleasures also do not complete you as a person. You will never achieve complete happiness through them. At the end of your life, when you die, you experience the same void and nothingness that evil people experience1. Is a legacy of good works really enough? Does it truly make you content with death?
King Solomon says no. It’s all meaningless when you’re in the ground. People say Friedrich Nietzsche was revolutionary, but Solomon was actually the first nihilist.
So after all this, we must admit happiness cannot be achieved through any works or experiences of our own.People say #Nietzsche was revolutionary, but #Solomon was actually the first nihilist. Click To Tweet
How the Bible Defines Happiness
However, at the climax of the book in the last chapter, Solomon wrote,
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
You see all those things that are supposed to make us happy, in the end never do. Everything ends in death. Money, leisure, even love ends in death or bankruptcy or homelessness or divorce or whatever the terrible things can happen.
But keeping God’s commandments brings eternity into our pursuit of happiness. Our Creator, Lord, and King assigns meaning to our lives and actions.
We don’t have to find our own meaning like the existentialists. Or use sexual trauma to define us like the Freudians. Small government isn’t our purpose like the Republicans say. Neither is welfare or social liberty like the Democrats tell us.
God is the only one who gets to tell us what happiness is.
And it’s actually developed quite well for us in the New Testament what exactly this means. The 10 Commandments (as well as all of the Law and Prophets) tell us how to live, but as Jesus said,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So loving God and loving others in His Creation is the thrust behind all of God’s laws for us. Now we’re getting somewhere. One more logical step to go…The only reason you had anything to lose was because #God first gave it to you. Click To Tweet
Gratitude toward God is Happiness
Paul wrote this to the church in Colossae when they were getting tricked into thinking that Gnosticism and other hidden knowledge was the key to experiencing happiness in God:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
In three short verses, Paul said, in different words, to be thankful to God three times. Thankfulness must be important to repeat so many times.
Look at this passage in 2 Corinthians. Paul lists off all the terrible things which have happened to him. An abridged version of this list includes hunger, beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and temptation.
And then in Philippians he makes the bold statement, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Paul’s thankfulness to God made him strong not only to enjoy the good things in life, but also to be content during the horrible things.
One more example – Job, a servant of God, after losing his livestock, livelihood, and even his family, the Bible tells us:
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job’s thankfulness toward God, and acknowledgement that everything comes from God, made him content during the loss of every single thing he held dear.
Now that is true happiness.
Happiness doesn’t mean that everything is good. Or that everything is even enjoyable. It is acknowledging that God is the giver of all good things, even when you can’t seem to remember them in the midst of difficulty.
So, by all means, go enjoy good food and wine. Pursue your hobbies. Make friends. Have a lot of sex with your spouse. Work hard and enjoy the fruit of your labor (in other words, make a lot of money!). Pursue wisdom. Appreciate humanity. Do good to your neighbors. Serve your community. Take care of the needy.
But do it all out of thankfulness to God. He is the one who has given you hands to serve, and a body to experience it all. He is the one who has given you resources, families, people to love, jobs, and anything else you can think of.
Suffer through hardship in thankfulness, too. When you fail, thank God. When you are hurt by others, thank God. When you experience great loss, thank God.
Why? Because He is the Lord of everything. And the only reason you had anything to lose in the first place was because He first gave it to you.
Earlier in the article, I wrote that finding happiness isn’t easy, but it is simple. I’ll boil it down to this: Be thankful toward God in all things and you will find peace, contentment, and above all, happiness.
Also published on Medium.
- Obviously, this statement comes from the point of view that happiness for happiness’ sake is the sought-after end. That good for goodness’ sake is all there is. At the time Solomon wrote this, the Jewish understanding of an afterlife wasn’t completely developed, even though it was present in antecedent Jewish literature, including biblical literature. But whether or not Solomon understood man’s relationship to eternity isn’t really the point. He is writing from the standpoint of someone who is seeking pleasure and happiness and considers nothing else. Obviously as Christians, we believe in the resurrection so our viewpoint is different (and we’ll get there a little bit later in the article). However, many of us live as though this life is all there is. This, Solomon explains, is meaningless.