Life is full of little things that just torpedo happy moments. For instance, you’re out on a peaceful little family road trip. You’re feeling good, life is going pretty well, and you’re relatively happy. And then you hear an impassioned declaration from the back seat of the car that goes something like this, “Mom (possibly Dad, but usually Mom), he (or she) is lookin’ at me!” You sigh deeply as you recognize that a change in mood has just been initiated and wonder if there’s a government assistance program for parents whose kids are born with a deeply imbedded intolerance for peace and harmony. Painful experience lets you know that this episode isn’t going to end with that single comment. Sure enough, counsel for the defense soon fires off an angry, “Am not!” Whereupon the plaintiff screams back, “Are, too!” And the miles begin to feel longer . . .
A Scientific Approach ~
In spite of our concerted efforts to find or maintain it, happiness continues to be 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 envision an end to the plague of human unhappiness. The secret, according to the scientists, 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 reprogram 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 soundtrack 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.
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.”
Solomon’s Report ~
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, temporary, and often unpredictable. So is the world’s version of happiness in this life.
Receiving–Better than Endless Chasing ~
It’s interesting that in the Biblical languages, the word for “Spirit” is the same as the word for wind. Jesus never promised to bestow enduring happiness on His followers. Instead, He promised that after His departure, He would send something Solomon couldn’t acquire with all his wealth and power. He promised to send His Spirit to reside in all who follow Him. Though the term “happiness” isn’t connected with Him directly, the Holy Spirit’s characteristics, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness faithfulness, and self control (Gal. 5:22-23) embody the essential ingredients of the best forms of human happiness. The presence of the Holy Spirit, like the eternal life Jesus offers, isn’t acquired by human effort. It’s a gift offered to all who will confess and forsake their sins and accept Jesus as Savior. If you haven’t received it, today would be a good day to do that. It may not keep your kids from squabbling in the back seat, but you might find a strange kind of peace in dealing with them that you didn’t have before.
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