Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chasing Happiness


"The meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul." Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In their book, "The Lost Virtue of Happiness," * J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler distinguish between the classical understanding of the term, "happiness" versus the contemporary meaning of the word. There is a huge difference. People like Moses, Jesus, Aristotle and Plato held to the concept that happiness comes from living a life of virtue and character, a life that demonstrates what Christians refer to as the "Fruit of the Spirit"...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith and self-control.

Over the course of the past century, the cultural understanding of happiness has evolved into one of pleasurable feelings gained from exterior circumstances. While there isn't anything wrong with this type of happiness, if it's all that happiness is for us, we are only happy for a short while. The pleasure of attending a World Series game, basking in the sunshine on a vacation, achieving a promotion at work or purchasing a new car may bring us satisfaction or exhilaration. But what about next month, next year or even tomorrow? Is it realistic to believe that we can feel happiness on that level every day?

Moreland and Issler observe that "if character and deep well-being is our goal, we will learn to see ourselves in light of a larger cause: the outworking of God's plan in history. We will be preoccupied with finding our role in that cause and playing it well."** It is beneficial if the day to day structure of our lives contains some measure of giving ourselves away to a belief and ideal greater than our own inward desires. This isn't something that comes naturally to us. We have to choose it.

Scholar John Gardner says, "Existence is a strange bargain. Life owes us little, we owe it everything. The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose."

Does your life contain a measure of outward focus to a mission greater than yourself? If it does, you have tasted happiness...the kind that lingers for longer than a brief season.

*Moreland, J.P, Issler, Klaus, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, NavPress, 2006.
**Moreland, Issler, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, NavPress, 2006, pg 31.

Photo: Paul Paladin www.123rf.com