Happiness - why is it so elusive?
Last updated 10/17/2023 at 10:13am
“Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy.” — Saint Augustine
The pursuit of happiness is the unavoidable hardwired disposition of every human heart. We were designed to desire true happiness. We can pretend we’ve moved beyond such “selfish, juvenile” behavior, but the fact remains that everyone is driven to achieve maximum happiness. Blaise Pascal put it this way:
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
Take any normal, everyday activity and what you’ll find is that the core motivation for engaging such activity is the pursuit of happiness. For instance, you grabbed this newspaper with the hope that it would improve your inner disposition (even if it only shifts in minimal degrees). You went to the “letter to the editor” section looking for political support to reinforce your views, you flipped through the ads hoping to find a coupon for 50 cents off your next latte. Heck, you’re even reading this article with the hopes you might find some fresh reservoir of happiness.
In fact, our culture is so desperate for some kind of authentic happiness, transcendent above our material world, that when Yale University professor Laurie Santos offered a class on Happiness in 2018, it instantly filled up. The best and brightest college students in our nation (some who struggled with anxiety and depression) found benefit in Santos’ material, and it’s since become the most successful and popular class in Yale’s esteemed 300 years of institutional impact. So wait, happiness, not psychology, gender studies, or physics is what Yale students are most interested in exploring? Interesting…
So what is happening in our collective psyche that has caused such a longing for happiness? Or rather what has happened in our culture that has simply unearthed that our core desire is to be happy?
Yale is not the only Ivy League school getting in on the happiness craze. This last year Harvard University released the findings of the longest happiness study ever conducted in our nation’s history. They tracked students of various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds for 85 years and followed these students, observing through interviews and asking the questions: “What makes some of these people happy? And what has led to many being unhappy?” Was it financial success, vocational domination, multiple homes in exotic places? What was the common theme that gave some people tremendous happiness while others experienced unthinkable pain and anguish?
The results were staggeringly simple. Harvard arrived at a straightforward yet profound conclusion: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” More than financial success, material accumulation, or career achievements—the key to happiness was good relationships. Good marriages, and healthy relationships with family, neighbors, and friends.
Might it be that what we actually need most is right in front of us, but we’re so distracted by our phones, our social media persona, our net worth . . . that we’re forfeiting what would truly make us happy?
As one who has discovered true happiness in knowing Jesus Christ as my King, my Redeemer, and my Friend, I have found that my personal quest for happiness has only validated the research of Harvard and Yale. I was made for a relationship with Jesus. The great pastor/theologian Thomas Aquinas spoke of this when he said:
“It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is that perfect good which entirely satisfies one’s desire; otherwise it would not be the ultimate end, if something yet remained to be desired.... This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone, because every creature has only participated goodness. Therefore, God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of the Psalms (102:5): ‘Who alone satisfies your desire with good things.’ Therefore, God alone constitutes man’s happiness” (Summa Theologica Part 2. Q.1. Article 8).
Does your happiness feel elusive, or the joy of your interior life feel like it’s slowly leaking? Do you wish your life had a deeper, more secure source for happiness? Instead of looking inward, or to your material objects, your bank account, or your next vacation, what if you looked up to the God who made you?
Jesus knew the human condition, and understood the mysterious quest for a life of happiness, joy, and meaning. To every weary, worn out, disillusioned, scared, disenfranchised heart, he still whispers today: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
My hope is that many of you find a deep source of happiness that would transcend any political shift, any financial challenge, or (God forbid) even another roundabout coming into Sisters.