I have come to realize that our culture is obsessed with the idea of happiness. We want to be happy at all cost. We base major life decisions on this desire for happiness: what friends to make, what college to go to, where to work, who to marry. Heck, it’s even in our Constitution. We pursue happiness in every aspect of our lives. This innocent desire is not wrong. To want what makes us happy is a natural part of being human. However, when it becomes our main priority, things can become skewed.
The desire for happiness can lead us astray and apart from God’s will for us. Instead of a means of joy and love, it is used as a means of escape. We escape marriage through divorce because it’s difficult and feelings fade. We escape troubled times through drugs and alcohol so we can forget our pain. We escape our loneliness by filling our beds with strangers, hoping to one day fill that hole in our hearts. All these things may produce happiness, but are they the best decision?
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C.S. Lewis
Without pain, we don’t see growth. Without mistakes, we don’t gain wisdom. Without hard work, we don’t see reward. The best things in life are the things we bleed for, the things we sweat for, and the things we cry for. To quote St. Augustine, “Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering”. A mother goes through horrific pain to bring a child into the world and immediately experiences the greatest joy of her life. If we try to eliminate all other emotion from our lives, we ultimately lose out on the gloriously, complex world we live in.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he shows our world in a future where pain, death, and sorrow no longer exist. Humans live in a constant high from drugs and the government has eliminated all strong emotions, desires, and relationships from society. People are kept in a constant state of youth and monogamy doesn’t exist. When a ‘savage’ is brought to civilization he is appalled, and says some of the most haunting and truthful words in the book:
The Savage nodded, frowning. “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.”
…”What you need,” the Savage went on, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.
“… I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
We have chosen happiness over actually living. We’ve forgotten sacrifice. We’ve forgotten the importance of responsibility and self-control. We’ve forgotten what is means to stand up for what we believe in and be persecuted for it. We’ve confused tolerance for acceptance. Lust for love. Convenience for commitment. ‘Religion’ for faith. We’ve become lovers of self and have forgotten what truly matters. We’ve forgotten who we live for.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will belovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. – 2 Timothy 3:4-8
Sometimes the right thing to do will make you unhappy. Life is hard and filled with difficult decisions. It may not be in your best interest to act in your best interest. We live in a selfish culture where our main concern is always ourselves. Jesus teaches us differently. He teaches us to be a servant, putting others, even our enemies, ahead of ourselves. He teaches us to love and care for the poor and powerless and and to give ‘our’ hard-earned money to help others. He teaches us to stand for Truth even when the world is turned against you. He shows us the ultimate sacrifice and calls it the greatest act of love. Jesus never questioned what would make him happy. He did what was holy.
When we stop thinking about ourselves and our happiness, our entire perspective changes. And when we start living for others, you know what happens? Happiness is often not far behind: the happiness one can only gain from knowing the one, true God.
Embrace the struggle, allow sorrow, and accept the possibility of loss. Demand more than the empty ‘happiness’ this life offers. Keep your eyes on Christ and take heart, true happiness awaits.