Where Can We Find Lasting Happiness?

What would it take to make you truly happy? What would make you completely satisfied so that you never wanted anything else?

Take a minute to think about your answer.

What did you come up with? More money? More stuff? Your own private island?

If you’re anything like me, maybe you found that as soon as you thought of something, your mind automatically went ‘yeah maybe, but what about…?’. It’s actually kind of weird. We all want to be happy, but we’re not actually sure what will deliver it.

We tend to look at the lives of the rich and famous as examples of what a happy life looks like. They’ve got all the money, the fast cars, the clothes, the parties – anything they want they can have. The perfect life. Or is it?

The wrong door

When we look a little closer, we find that many of the most successful stars aren’t the picture of happiness we expect.

Ed Sheeran is worth around $60 million. At one point had nine songs in the UK top ten. He’s one of the most successful musicians around. Yet in the opening track on his album Divide (2017) he gives us a glimpse behind the success:

 I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs
I chased the pictured perfect life, I think they painted it wrong
I think that money is the root of all evil, and fame is hell
Relationships, and hearts you fixed, they break as well

Justin Bieber has sold almost 50 million records in the US alone and is worth around $200 million. By all appearances he has everything he could ever want. But in one interview he said this:

You get lonely, you know, when you’re on the road. People see the glam and the amazing stuff, but they don’t know the other side. This life can rip you apart … [I get depressed] all the time. And I feel isolated. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone.[1]

It’s actually kind of weird. We all want to be happy, but we’re not actually sure what will deliver it.

Time and time again people discover that when they get everything they thought they wanted, it didn’t deliver. Instead of happiness they find isolation, fear and sadness. The life that was meant to satisfy is found wanting.

This experience isn’t new. People throughout history had the same struggle to find happiness. What are we getting wrong?

The French philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778) saw the problem. He said:

We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.[2]

That sounds about right, doesn’t it? We know vaguely what we’re looking for, but we don’t know where to look for it. So we fumble around from one thing to another hoping that we will finally find the door our key unlocks.

But like the drunkard stumbling through the streets trying his key in every lock along the way, we look for happiness in all sorts of wrong places. His key doesn’t work because it isn’t designed to open any door but his own. We can’t find happiness for the same reason. We’re trying the key in the wrong door.

Too easily pleased?

We look for happiness in things that were never meant to give it. We try to make ourselves happy with more money, more sex, more food, more Netflix. But more of something that can’t make you happy doesn’t add up to happiness. But instead of dropping the unsatisfying things to search elsewhere, we take refuge in brief pleasures.

Instead of dropping the unsatisfying things to search elsewhere, we take refuge in brief pleasures

C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, put it like this:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.[3]

Lewis says we’ve settled for too little, ‘we are too easily pleased’. That’s our problem. We can’t find lasting happiness because we look to temporary things. We want infinite joy but scrape around in the mud for it instead of looking to one who freely offers it – the Christian God.

Maybe that suggestion surprises you? Maybe when you imagine ‘infinite joy’ the last thing you think about is God or Jesus or any sort of religion at all. Religion’s all about rules, isn’t it? God’s the guy who’s always waiting for you to find something fun, just so he can tell you not to do it!

Is that right? Is God just a big killjoy who wants to spoil our fun?

Finding the right fuel

You might be surprised to find that nowhere in the Bible do we read ‘thou shalt not enjoy yourself’. You won’t find anything of the sort. In fact, the very existence of such a thing as pleasure and that we are able to experience it is itself evidence that God isn’t a killjoy. Just look at the world we live in, think about the way our bodies work. If God hated pleasure, the world would be very different: he could have made all food and drink taste like dirt, he could have made music and art an offense to our senses, he could have made the natural world ugly and boring.

But that’s not the way the world is. Pleasure and happiness are real; the world is full of joys and delights that we can experience.Far from seeing God as wanting us to be miserable, in the Bible people say things about God like this: ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ (Psalm 16:11).

In another place, C.S Lewis states that human history is ‘the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy’.[4] He goes on to explain why this can never work:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it wouldn’t run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn. There is no other. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.[5]

So, in looking for happiness elsewhere, we’re like someone who keeps putting the wrong fuel in their car and wondering why it breaks down. We so easily settle for less than the best, and wonder why it doesn’t satisfy.

But what if God made the good, pleasurable things in the world to point to the source of all pleasure – himself? And what if we’ve been stopping short all along, leading to dissatisfaction and despair? What if happiness is not found in a thing or an experience, but in a relationship – in a person?

This is why Jesus came. He came to lift our eyes from our futile attempts to satisfy ourselves, and show us where to find true pleasure, true happiness, true satisfaction.

Somewhere we never thought to look

Jesus said ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). He shows a hint of this in things like turning water into wine so people could celebrate at a wedding, but he doesn’t stop there. He offers us real life, real pleasure – not a dull, restrictive and stripped-down version of life.

Did you know the Bible ends with a big party? In fact it’s a wedding celebration it’s a picture of what heaven will be like – not a load of people floating round with harps on a cloud. It will be a real, physical place where we will feast and drink and sing. There we will celebrate with the guest of honour – Jesus himself. Every moment of joy and pleasure we have now is just a shadow of that ultimate joy that lasts forever.

The best part is that this wedding party is one we are all invited to. Will you come?

References

[1] Justin Bieber: The Full NME Cover Story. NME, 13 November 2015

[2] Voltaire, Leningrad Notebook

[3] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of glory’ in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (HarperOne, 2001) p.26

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (HarperCollins, 2002) p.49

[5] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (HarperCollins, 2002) p.50