The truth about happiness
Since the beginning of time, humans have been trying to hack the secret to happiness.
Of course, we don't all look for happiness in the same places. But still, you’d think by now we’d have figured out the trick. We’ve made so many advances in technology, medicine and our understanding of the world.
Why can’t we nail down the one thing all of us want: to live a happy life?
I typed "how to be" and "why can't I be" into Google. "Happy" was the first suggestion for both queries. No matter how many generations have come before us, we're still hungrily searching for the answer.
A definition of happiness: experiencing joy or pleasure; the satisfaction of the deepest desire.
I think that if we pulled back the layers of cultural expectations and individual ambitions, wants and needs, we would find that humans share the same basic desire at the very core of our beings.
Each of us yearns to be known and loved.
Yes, I’m simplifying this a bit. Often, we act as if the driving force in our lives is to achieve fame, comfort, or any number of other things.
But if you look at centuries worth of literature and cultural narratives, there is a fixation on companionship and love that never disappears.
The problem is, no human can actually satisfy all our desires or expectations. Finding the “perfect” soul mate does not guarantee uninterrupted happiness. They will let you down, and you will fail them.
And no matter how successful your relationship is, you will still face external problems; family members will still die, financial disasters or other troubles will come.
The love of another human cannot fully sustain you during these times. Similarly, if your happiness depends on your circumstances, it can be shattered the moment difficulties come.
We do our best—and are often quite successful—at taking our lives into our own hands. But ultimately, no matter what plans we make, anything could happen. We could still lose everything we work towards; relationships still fall apart; opportunities disappear.
One of the secrets to being happy is recognizing that ultimately, we are not in control. We cannot make our lives perfect by sheer willpower, and trying to do so only makes us more stressed and unhappy when we lose control.
In fact, from the moment we were born, we were never even in control at all. We didn’t choose what country or family we were born into. We didn’t get to decide our ethnicity, genetic makeup, personality, or natural strengths and weaknesses. These details about our lives were decided for us by God before we were born.
That seems a little scary, right?
We like being in control. However, I truly believe that each aspect of earth’s story has and will continue to be narrated by a God who has our ultimate good in mind. Knowing this makes it easier for me to unclench my fists and release my tightly held plans.
We’re not supposed to fight our way through life trying to dictate everything. However, giving up control does not mean sitting by passively and letting the chips fall where they may.
We are given a choice: we can either stop grappling and respond to God’s call, or we can reject it.
After we give our lives to Christ, we’re then able to actually serve him and work towards restoring the earth. We aren’t able to do that effectively or well if we’re still clinging to our own futile agendas. It’s only by letting go that we’re able to find meaningful happiness in life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t get anxious or stressed at times. There are so many things that steal our joy: worry, frustrations, doubt, failures, uncertainties, injustices, loss. I definitely still have moments where I freak out about what the future holds and worry about what people think of me.
But even in the darkest times, when it is completely unclear what God is doing, I know that the pain is temporary and that eventually, we will get to see every wrong made right.
If we let this mindset sink deep, then our joy can be unstoppable.
I know that I can’t fix everything, but I also know that God can and will. What’s more, he grants us the honour of actually joining him and reaching out to the world around us. My human brain is always jumping ahead, trying to line everything up for the future.
But God asks me to be present now; to be faithful now. To say yes to him now.
All we can do is our best for today. All we can do is patiently show up, and ask God for the strength to do his will in each moment. In each hour. In each day.
His Word is rich with guidance and wisdom for what it looks like to follow him and live the lives he intended. We are not without help!
And even though giving up control goes against our human nature, living this way gives me great joy and certainty amidst the stress and uncertainty of life. That is why I believe that happiness is not found in finding a perfect partner or building a perfect life for myself.
Happiness isn't found in pursuing more for ourselves, but in pursuing ourselves less.
Happiness is found when we stop trying to control everything and let go. God’s got this, and if we let him work in us, we actually don’t need to be afraid of anything on earth.
How crazy is that?
BONUS: If you're interested in pursuing the topic of happiness further, I'd recommend this three-part podcast series titled “Why we get happiness wrong.” It compares the ancient, contemporary and Christian view of happiness to see which is the most comprehensive and realistic approach.