Life is full of little things that just torpedo happy moments. For instance, you’re out on an otherwise peaceful little family road trip. You may not even consciously realize that you’re relatively happy, but then you hear an announcement from the back seat of the car that goes something like this, “Mom (possibly Dad, but usually Mom), he (or she) is looking at me!” Immediately you recognize that a definite change in mood has just taken place. You sigh deeply and wonder if there’s any kind of government assistance for parents of kids born with an incurable intolerance for peace and harmony. You know from painful experience that this episode isn’t going to end with that single comment. Sure enough, the self-appointed counsel for the defense back there fires off an angry, “Am not!” Whereupon the plaintiff screams back, “Are, too!” And the miles begin to feel longer. You indulge in another sigh, and wonder who on our spouse’s side of the family passed along the little genetic jewels that produced this.
And in case you wonder whether those events might be an affirmation from God to reclaim lost happiness by putting the kids on drugs, or perhaps by seeking some for yourself, let me discourage such thinking. As is so often the case these days, scientific research has come to our rescue. In the first place, they (the all-knowing scientific researchers) have determined that those happiness robbing vehicular skirmishes between our kids are mostly harmless and can even be beneficial. Experts have conducted extensive studies to explore the long-term impact of these kinds of events. I’m not sure if they used real kids, or resorted to using field mice, since kids can be so difficult to work with, but then so can the mice, because the baby ones keep crawling out of the back seats of their little cars.
In any case, the consensus is that we have little to be concerned about as long as the fights between our kids don’t involve real weapons – or exposure to artificial sweeteners. And just to clarify terms, plastic toys like a ‘Star Wars’ light saber, for instance, don’t fall into the ‘potentially life-threatening weapon’ category, unless of course you happen to be driving past a public school or a state-run university, in which case, calling in fully armed SWAT teams would be the politically correct response. Post-traumatic interventions with trained counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists, pediatricians, hypnotists, chiropractors, and board-certified dog-whisperers would be scheduled later.
But regarding the happiness question, in spite of our concerted efforts to maintain it, happiness seems elusive, but never fear, there is good news. You will be happy to know, and I mean that quite literally, that the intrepid researchers at the prestigious Mayo Clinic have scientifically discovered and unveiled the key to happiness. They interviewed thousands upon thousands of people (and perhaps an undisclosed number of lab rats), and thanks to their tireless efforts, we can now finally anticipate an end to the plague of human unhappiness. The secret, according to them, is that we must learn to focus our thoughts. We must stop thinking about what we don’t have and all that negative stuff. Instead, we need only to re-program our minds to focus on how happy we are with what we already have and, ‘voila’, perpetual happiness! Who knew it could be that simple? It isn’t clear whether their final report included a sound track of that little tune, ‘Don’t Worry—Be Happy’, but one might assume that they at least hummed it to themselves as they compiled their data.
Forgive me, I don’t mean to belittle scientific research, or those who conduct it. We owe much to their efforts, but unfortunately, real life doesn’t always imitate research conclusions, and while we would love to make happiness easier to maintain, other forces rise up to challenge it. The widespread global absence of happiness was evident among other news items that were reported on the very same day as the happiness article. One headline read, “NY Girl ‘Barbarically’ Raped by Teen Gangsters from El Salvador.” Another announced a plan to hold a “massive sex orgy for disabled people” in Toronto, Canada, ostensibly I suppose, to make them happier. Then there’s a distraught guy in China who filed a lawsuit against a TV actress because watching her intense ‘stare’ into the camera “changed him spiritually”.
Research on the pursuit of happiness isn’t new. Solomon invested quite a lot of his life in studying the subject, and his conclusions sound a bit different from the Mayo Clinic folks. After cataloging a list of his efforts and observations, he filed this report:
“I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge. And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 NKJV).
Solomon’s pursuit of happiness involved obtaining the world’s most desirable commodities, and in the end, they left him frustrated, dissatisfied, and empty. He equated it to chasing the wind. That’s not to suggest that he was chasing a fantasy that didn’t exist, but rather, engaging in a futile attempt to grasp what cannot be held. The wind is quite real. It can be felt. It has power and authentic presence, but it will not be made subject to the whims of those who live within its domain. It is by definition continually moving, always within the range of our senses, but beyond the reach of our ownership. The wind is a product of forces we cannot control, and though we might avail ourselves of its power and influence in some ways, its presence is variable, and often unpredictable. So is happiness in this life.
It’s interesting that in the Biblical languages, the word for Spirit is the same as the word for wind. Jesus never promised to send happiness, but He did promise that after His departure, He would send His Spirit, to be continually present, continually moving, yet residing in all who follow Him. Though the term isn’t used of Him directly, the Holy Spirit’s characteristics (Gal. 5:22-23) embody the essential ingredients of the best forms of human ‘happiness’. Jesus offers, apart from our efforts, what all of Solomon’s chasing could never acquire. Maybe, then, we should re-focus our thinking on that.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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