Everyone wants to know the secret to happiness. How can we find lasting contentment?
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.Charles Spurgeon
Some try wealth. Others, fame. But if those don’t work out for you, there’s always relationships, careers, exercise, busyness—and, of course, drugs and alcohol.
When it comes to finding happiness, there’s no shortage of options to try. The commercial and materialistic nature of today’s society—seen in everything from advertisements to daily shopping deals to a bevy of fitness- and health-related products and stores—is evidence enough of our demand for something to fulfill us and make us happy.
And the companies selling such merchandise have no problem promising us that their product will do just that: “Take this diet pill, lose weight, and feel great!” “Wear this perfume—you’ll be irresistible!” “Go to this spa! Watch your stress melt away as you relax and find your center!”
And yet so few people seem truly happy. Business CEOs and top-paid athletes regularly make headlines for embezzlement, DWIs, even rape and murder—a result, many argue, of the constant pursuit for more power, more money, more fame. A quick peek at Hollywood reveals the same thing to an even more shocking degree. We all hear of actors and actresses whose personal lives are in shambles, despite multi-million-dollar incomes and recognition around the globe. Even those who seek happiness through the arts often seem to miss the mark, snuffing out remarkable natural talent with self-consciousness, dissatisfaction, and despair.
Such discontent all too often leads to addiction, abuse, and even suicide.
The Need for More
Why is it that worldly pursuits seem unable to provide the lasting happiness we seek? Perhaps part of the explanation is in the way human beings are wired. From infancy, humans demonstrate the saying we all know so well: more is never enough.
For example, my two-year-old son loves to play with trucks. He has a room full of them, from the largest Tonka to the smallest Matchbox. Yet when my older son comes into the room with a different toy car, my younger son throws a fit. Why? He already has plenty of things to play with, including the toys most dear to his heart. Yet he wants what his brother has, too. Even at the age of two, there is the desire for more.
That applies to less tangible things as well. Look at caffeine. The first time someone has a cup of coffee, they experience a pleasant rush, a sharpening of the senses, a quickening of the pulse that allows them to function at an arguably more productive level. Over time, however, that single cup no longer provides the same stimulus. Soon, it takes a cup and a half to achieve the desired effect. Then two cups. Then espresso. And so on.
To maintain even that baseline feeling—the one first experienced from that single cup of coffee—a person has to have more and more over time. The same can be said for any number of things—nicotine, alcohol, even exercise.
I think most of us would agree that we will never be fully fulfilled—the hunt for happiness will never be entirely completed—by purely materialistic means. Sure, a purchase or pill may make us happier for a time, but it doesn’t last. There will always be something lacking as we continue to pursue greater and larger “toys” in an effort to manufacture a sense of purpose, security, well-being, and happiness. Simply put, the world is not enough.
So where does that leave mankind? Always frustrated, always disappointed, never happy. But there is a solution to this vicious cycle.
If one can look beyond the worldly—past the never-ending commercials and marketing onslaught that promise true satisfaction with just one more purchase—contentment and joy can be achieved.
It’s in Jesus Christ, God’s son, that real happiness—happiness that transcends this world’s definition—is found. Jesus’ perfect life, the death he suffered on the cross, and his resurrection provide true hope—both for this life and the one to come.
The forgiveness he provides for our failures and transgressions gives us a deep and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness. Resting in the security of Jesus allows us to turn our focus away from how much we can accumulate for ourselves and toward how much we can love, give, and care for our fellow human beings. It’s in Christ that society finds an antidote to its sickness of discontent.
The apostle Paul, an early Christian figure who penned several books in the New Testament, says in a letter he wrote to a church in the city of Corinth: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”1
In another letter to a different church, Paul further emphasizes the contentment that can be found in Jesus—a contentment that exceeds earthly circumstances: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 this through [Christ] who gives me strength.”2
The lasting happiness we all seek simply can’t be found in worldly things—another dollar, another bottle, another bite. To find enduring peace and contentment, we must look beyond ourselves.