Are you a happy person? Not in the sense of feeling good or possessing a lot of toys, but are you happy when you look intently at that person in the mirror? The virtually epidemic rates of alcohol and drug abuse in our society strongly suggest just the opposite, that a disproportionate number of people are very unhappy. Why is it that the most affluent generation in the most affluent country in the world’s history seems to struggle with finding happiness? In fact studies frequently indicate that the impoverished people in less developed countries enjoy a higher “happiness quotient” than people in wealthy, developed nations.
The first thing to recognize is that happiness means something more than experiencing pleasure. In order to honestly answer the question of happiness, a more basic question needs to be answered. “Why am I here?” In other words does my life have any real meaning or purpose? In fact, the answer those important questions may well determine the overall pattern of one’s life. You see, happiness is not really a cause, it is an effect. Something else must cause us to experience happiness and external things are not sufficient to cause that effect. If they did, then the “happiness quotient” would clearly favor wealthy societies, not the poorer ones, which strongly suggests that the real root of happiness is internal, not external.
In order to experience happiness, life must provide us with some degree of purpose and meaning, something that can only be attained by knowing the truth. And the first truth is that we were all made for happiness, therefore if you are not presently happy chances are you have not yet found the truth. Certainly material goals and ambitions are good to the extent that they, provide a certain positive purpose and motivation for many people, but that kind of success does not come to everyone. Consequently those who are deprived of it are only liable to become unhappier when material success eludes them. Yet even the most successful people too often become bored or feel a gnawing sense of emptiness so that they frequently escape into sex, drug, and alcohol addictions. When people don’t find happiness in their fame or millions, they sadly try to discover it in sensual pleasures. That is why successful business and celebrity types provide such ample fodder for the tabloids. If these successful people were truly happy the rest of us would have nothing to read about at the grocery store checkout.
So if money and success cannot insure real purpose, meaning, or happiness, what can? On the natural plane, marriage and family are great inducements to happiness but even these things do not guarantee that we will be happy. In fact, relationships and families can sometimes become the source of great pain and frustration. But if we are truly happy from the inside the external pressures of life, family, jobs, etc. only become minor irritations, not catastrophes. Put another way, ask yourself honestly if successful marriages make for happy people, or is it not happy people who make successful marriages? If that is the case, then the most important key to success, not only in family life but in all our relationships, is first of all to be a happy person.
So here is the problem in a nutshell. One cannot be happy without having some higher purpose and meaning in life than the mere attainment of stuff. And one cannot achieve that purpose and meaning unless he is able to discover the truth of one’s existence. So again the conundrum leads us around in circles. The truth is that we were all made for happiness, and yet no one can find happiness without some understanding of the truth. This underlines a basic principle which Abiding Truth ~ Dwelling Among Us intends to emphasize. Our Christian life is a continual search for the truth, and it is that very process of searching provides one with far more meaning than any super-sized bank account ever could. We need to know who we are and why it is that we even exist. Only then can we ascribe value and meaning to our lives.
Today’s world pretty much begs the question of truth. It would have us believe that we are mere accidents of nature with no real long-term purpose or eternal value. Such a venal philosophy is duly reflected in the disposable consumer society in which even human beings become cast-off items once they have no further apparent utility. Witness the growing acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Western Europe today.
Overall the prospect of viewing ourselves as biological accidents can hardly make for happy people for the simple reason that it robs them of any ultimate hope. The only happiness one can look forward to in such a limiting human environment is the very transitory sort known as pleasure. And so secular societies gamely substitutes the pursuit of pleasure for the pursuit of happiness, rationalizing all along that it is the best one can hope for in the absence of any long term future. This exceedingly corrosive philosophy springs from nihilism, which literally translates as nothingness. Not much to be happy about there.
Nihilism has been around in one form or another since ancient times. The only effective antidote to this ultimately pessimistic conception of the universe is Faith. Nihilists would argue that faith is not a rational response to the great lurking void they imagine to be everywhere. Perhaps in pagan Greece or Rome such arguments held more credence, but something remarkable happened about that same time which stood the old argument on its ear. That event is called the Incarnation, in which the very author of all truth came down to our world to dwell among us. He could bear witness to truth precisely because he is the very personification of Truth. By revealing himself in such a direct and forceful way to mankind, God transformed the old mythic beliefs into a lively, rational, and positive answer to despairing nihilism. In the person of Christ he allowed mankind to see, touch, and experience the true object of faith which is God himself.
God’s entering into human history as the Incarnation now gives every life true meaning, value, and a set goal (which is eternal, not temporal). With meaning and purpose restored it becomes easier to experience true happiness and the key which unlocks that door to happiness is faith. Of course faith, like happiness itself, is a choice not an imperative. One can still choose pleasure and worldly success over it but I wager that in the end such a choice will not bring much real happiness. Happiness comes from knowing and living the truth. Nor is truth just an idea. It is a Person, God’s own divine Son, Jesus Christ, who remains in our midst to this very day.
Happiness is not about feeling good but about knowing what is good and true. I maintain that without some knowledge of the truth one can never find happiness, and so search for truth we must. We are not freak accidents of nature, we are the blessed children of God and that truth alone should give one the greatest happiness.
Still, we are all fallible human beings and so any complete understanding of truth will always elude us in this present world. And Christianity, for all its flaws, will at least point us in the right direction. If we stay on that path, regardless of our actual progress, we will eventually find the true happiness which remains so elusive to the larger world.
Francis J. Pierson