A few days ago, I ran across an interesting headline on the internet that read, “Science confirms: To be truly happy, you always need this…” The headline was the “bait” to hook many into thinking, “OK, I’ll bite and open up this article just to find out what it is that we always need in order to be truly happy.”
Did I bite the bait? You bet I did. Curiosity got the best of me. Although, in the back of my mind, I was hoping that the “key” to true happiness would somehow include God. I was 99.9 percent sure that God or religion would not make the “cut” or even be alluded to in the article. Was I right? Yes, because God, the creator and author of our physical, spiritual and eternal life, was not even mentioned, not even in the footnotes. Sorry, Lord!
The gist of the article basically was that to be “truly happy,” we need to have goals that motivate us to strive for something bigger. The pursuit of these goals can give us a sense of purpose and mission. It’s not the destiny that makes us happy, it’s the journey along the way.
The article’s author ascertained, “So, wanting to get to know a new person, getting that job promotion, finding new music or exploring different areas of the world is actually so you can feel the ‘thrill of the hunt,’ not the completion of the task. It’s why putting a puzzle together feels better than staring at it when it’s all done. When you’ve reached your goal, it’s over. But in the process of achieving it, you feel the happiest.”
To the author, or to the scientist who confirmed this study, I say, “Are you kidding me?” Although I agree the journey along the way can offer great excitement, I don’t ascribe to the notion that the journey is always more fulfilling than the destiny. Otherwise we might get the impression that our journey to heaven is going to bring us much more happiness than heaven itself, or that our physical life is all there is, so enjoy the ride because this is as good as it gets.
To prove his point, the author encouraged readers to seek “true happiness,” to “Go ahead and dream, pine away for more wealth, better relationships, or a sexy partner. Accomplish goals you never imagined, and explore every bit of the world. Work to achieve those things and then reap the rewards from your efforts.” When the author stated, “… then reap the rewards,” he made perfect sense because you and I will definitely reap what we sow, good or bad. Mark my word, or better yet, mark God’s Word: “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruptible from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
As pastors, parents and teachers, we want to encourage children and young adults to “shoot for the stars” and “to grab the bull by the horns” to accomplish all their goals and dreams. However, we also want to encourage them to recognize the difference between goals that are aligned with God’s plan and goals that are not. Otherwise we can send the young out into the world believing that “all roads lead to heaven.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a great acronym for reminding their members to choose wisely: CTR —Choose the Right!
Two decades ago, I read an article by Protestant Minister Chuck Swindoll, who said it is becoming difficult for all of us to choose the right path because our society focuses on “I, Me, Mine, Myself,” rather than focusing on God’s will and serving others. Swindoll made it clear that as we seek “true happiness,” it’s easy for us to take our eyes off God and off our neighbor and to focus on ourselves. And why not, because that is what the world says with slogans like “Look out for number one. You owe it to yourself. You deserve it. Do yourself a favor. Have it your way. Do it. Just do it. If it feels good, do it. This Bud is for you. It’s Miller Time. You can have it all. Eat, drink and be merry!”
In our search for “true happiness,” may we be reminded of what St. Augustine, a Catholic Bishop and theologian proclaimed: “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee, O Lord.” We can spend our whole lives chasing after, “wine, women and song” or “looking for love in all the wrong places,” but unless our goals are aligned with God’s plans and our search for “true happiness” is rooted in the “joy and peace” that only God can give, then we are going to find ourselves feeling sad, lonely and depressed all the more — despite all the goals in our “bucket list” and despite all the money we may have in the bank.
It goes without saying, “Money can’t buy us happiness.” As a pastor, I know that winning the lottery doesn’t make people happy; however, I would like to win the lottery just once in order to prove that statement wrong. “Lord, let me prove to you that winning the lottery will not spoil me!”
There is a book by Dr. Archibald D. Hart called, “Thrilled to Death – How the endless pursuit of pleasure is leaving us numb,” in which he states, “Our headlong pursuit of pleasure is killing our ability to experience the very pleasure we are pursuing. We are overloading our brain’s pleasure circuits and dulling our satisfaction in ordinary pleasures, which in turn drives us to seek more intense and sensational experiences to revive the dying thrills. The result: addiction to extreme forms of stimulation, boredom with the ordinary, and even anhedonia. Anhedonia is a condition in which the pleasure system shuts down completely, leaving us unable to enjoy any pleasure at all.” In this book, Dr. Hart explains the causes of pleasure loss and offers seven steps to recovering real joy.
Jesus gives us sound advice for recovering real joy: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” (John 15:10-11)
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.