What if that thing you have been striving for is right in front of you? That is the story of just about every person in the world because what the world would tell you is that your highest ideal is your happiness. However, the Bible would tell you your highest ideal is holiness.
Every ad, every commercial, and every marketing line you hear tells you that you have the right to be happy and that you have the right to do what it takes to achieve happiness. You deserve it, you deserve it all, in fact, they'll even say you're entitled to it. Although, research would suggest that the things that make us happiest are things we already tend to have. Most of us do this even if we don't think we do this, but we equate happiness with more _______. Usually that starts with more money, more notoriety, more respect, more letters behind the name, or ________.
Though, research shows that after you make about $75,000, your happiness level doesn't change that much between that point and someone who makes millions of dollars of year. This is because you don't have food insecurity and for the most part, most people are able to pay their bills while also covering costs like retirement, college, healthcare, etc. After that point, more money does not equal more happiness and even in a lot of cases, it can mean less. So this is a fascinating study that showed the happiest people tend to have lives that are deeply entrenched in relationships with family, friends, and their church community. They also spend time outside in nature where they get sunshine which produces vitamin D and that produces dopamine experiences making us happier.
Jim Carrey famously commented on this subject saying:
"I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer."
However, this is nothing new. The book of Ecclesiastes says the same thing:
"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless." - Ecclesiastes 5:10
Another interesting thing about these findings are that this isn't new research. In the 1800's, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy in America where he details his experience of coming over to America from France to study the American prison system. He specifically was interested in studying different pockets of societies and what he found in America was really surprising. He expected to find Americans to be the happiest people in the world because they were very affluent and wealthy, but what he ended up seeing was that the happiest people in the world were those who tended to live in smaller communities where everybody knew each other and where they spent a ton of time outdoors with less material possessions. These communities of people placed less emphasis on accumulating things and more on time and experiences.
I love this so much because it reminds us that we were wired for relationships and community, not the accumulation of things. All these things I desire can only give me a glimpse of what God gives me. But when we idolize these things, we forget the very source of all of it. Too often, we chase after things that we think will make us happy – then inevitably, once we gain what we're after, we discover that it can’t give us what we wanted. And so the cycle continues.
The euphoria of happiness isn’t what satisfies. It’s brief. What does satisfy is having the knowledge of the deepest joy imaginable; we are united with a God who is the source of everything lovely, beautiful and praiseworthy. When we see that our identity is in Christ, we can find joy knowing that our life isn’t meaningless. We are children of God. We have purpose. We are loved.