The Pursuit of Happiness
People are complex, to begin with. Everybody knows this. Most of us have expressed the sentiment ourselves at some point, framed as a question sometimes, but often as an answer. How else are we to explain why it is that we all want and expect so many different things from our lives?
Fortunately for our general sanity, there is a constant. Regardless of who you are, and where and when you are, if you’re human, you want to be happy. Everybody knows this, too. In fact, we regard such a state of emotional wellbeing as the minimum basis of existence that allows us not only to thrive in our work, relationships, and personal health, but to function properly. After all, the world furnishes us with an almost meticulous supply of tragedy and inconvenience alike, and without the bright spots to distract us, it’s all too easy to tumble over into a tangle of anger, stress, and anxiety. The bubbles of our lives wobble when we receive rumors and glimpses of terrible things happening around the world, and our daily problems pale before the shadows of suffering we can’t begin to imagine.
This leads us to another question, just as pressing as the conundrum of complexity previously posed: In a broken world of cracked potentials, shattered homes, and shard-sharp edges, how do we reaffirm the value of living, and of living happily?
That’s the trouble with joy– it doesn’t play fair. The more we search for it, orienting our hopes and efforts around it like satellites orbiting a bright planet pulsing just out of reach, the less likely we are to find it. In fact, you could say that success within this enterprise decreases in direct proportion to the amount of effort you dedicate to attaining it (see, high school algebra was useful, after all!). When the quest for happiness becomes our driving mission, no shiny spot we stumble upon will ever be enough. When we treat joy like a necessity, it becomes a utility. Adrift in an unpredictable ocean, we weigh ourselves down with ironic expectations of satisfaction, and then we wonder why the rafts we’ve constructed continue to sink. Do we need to make them heavier?
Like a cat, joy comes to us when we accept it not as a privilege or a right, but as a gift. Fortunately for us, we have a God who cares about our wellbeing and wants us to be happy. While he never promised us comfort, security, euphoria, or any other incarnation of contentment that we tend to prioritize, he does promise us that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Like the sunrise, joy arrives whether or not we wait for it.– but wWhen we stop clambering and clamoring after it, or taking it for granted as we use its light to poke around the gravel in search of sparkly leftovers, we find we have the time and perspective to see the gentle way it illuminates our lives, and we’re far more likely to enjoy it.
Life is hard. Everybody knows this. It’s so ingrained within our psyches that it might strike us as too unmistakbale to warrant mention. But we do have a history of overlooking the most obvious of things, and one such thing is joy. All the time we were climbing mountains, excavating molehills, and meeting ourselves back where we started, we missed the fact that happiness was always along for the ride. Simply living, regardless of what’s happening in the wider world or within the narrow confines of our own minds, is a validation of life in itself. Our redeemed existence, unweighted and unmeasured, is the greatest gift of all– and that, rain or shine, midnight or morning, friendly squabble or standoff between the powers that be, is a reason for happiness all on its own. After all, we have an eternity of mornings sitting up for us. We can stand to wait a little longer, too.