The Road to Happy-ness
The preamble to the US Declaration of Independence says the following:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The pursuit of happiness sets a person on a journey, and this journey takes place on a road, the road to happiness. It is a journey that we all take part in throughout our lives, whether we consciously do so or whether our life circumstances dictate it to us. The Declaration of Independence states that the pursuit of happiness is a basic human right. A right that we all, man, woman, and child not only claim as a right, but claim as a desirable right.
As an example of this journey, a recent movie was made starring Will Smith, called The Pursuit of Happyness. It relates the real life story of a man, Chris Gardner, and his son, and how they lived homeless for a year until, through perseverance and hard work, Mr. Gardner achieved success. Note that the word Happyness in the movie is spelt with a ‘y’, not the usual ‘I’. The reason for this is that Mr. Gardner’s son goes to a kindergarten where some 5-year-old child spelt the word this way.
When I saw this, I was struck by a flash of insight which I sometimes get and which bothers me enough to think it through. I wonder why this bothers me until I realize, it’s another one of those God whispers we sometimes hear. We all get them, these whispers from God, but we don’t all pay attention to them, or we don’t always pay attention to them.
So, what did I come up with in my thoughts? Something that we instinctively realize as a part of our spiritual faith. How many times have you heard the expression, ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness?’ Not only do we hear it almost daily, we see examples of it in our own lives and in the lives of others. You see it even in the habits of our children. Christmas gift-giving has come and gone, like it does every year. Some children rip into their gifts, check them out for a few seconds, then go on to the next one. A few weeks later, they often are already tired of these colourful plastic toys and sometimes don’t play with them much longer. It isn’t that they didn’t like what they got. It’s maybe that they got too much at once.
It is the same for us. Look at some Hollywood stars or millionaire athletes and rock stars. How many of them live a life of glitz and glut? How many of them take to drugs and over-abundance of Material pleasures? How many of them turn the road to happiness into the road to suicide? And why? I think of Whitney Houston as one example. She had so much, so much fame, so much fortune, so much talent that she displayed to the world, and so much more she might have shared. Yet, she cast it all away. Why?
I think the big reason why people keep chasing happiness and not finding it is because it always seems to be beyond their reach. You know, the grass is always greener on the other side. We seem too often to be looking for happy-ness with a ‘y’, a series of happy events that are never enough in themselves. Happy-ness with a ‘y’ is a short-term thing. That new dress, that new tv, that new car…I regard these all as happy-ness with a ‘y’, an immature, incomplete, kindergarten happy-ness. These are not happiness with an ‘I’, a complete happiness that we can take with us for the rest of our lives.
These 2 levels of happiness can even extend to out personal relationships, to our friends and partners. When we are dissatisfied with one, when we turn our backs on one, they become happy-ness with a ‘y’. When we endure with the people we know, the people we love, we build long-term relationships, we build happiness with an ‘I’. How do we describe these? How do we keep our happiness long-term? I read recently that the key to enjoying our lives is to be content with what God has given us. When we think about it, He has given us so much, it should be easy to find contentment in His gifts.
I remember a friend of mine some years ago complaining to me about his partner. These are people who had been married for over ten years. They had nice kids, material goods, they had no reason that I could see for being unhappy. So, I asked him a question, “Do you think that she may also find fault with you, and does she dwell on it?” He didn’t know. He had never thought about her feelings and what she thought about their relationship. So, I asked him, “Do you think your partner is basically the same person that she was when you fell in love with her? And is there no way you can do for her what you used to do in the past? When did you last buy her flowers? When did you last say, “I love you?”
I left it as a pregnant question. Contentment is an elusive thing, but certainly not out of reach if you don’t let negative thoughts drag you down.
This Sunday is called Transfiguration Sunday, a celebration of that day when Jesus took three of his disciples up on a mountain top and revealed the power of God to them. To me, it was a clear sign that God’s message to us is that happiness when found in the Lord is a picture so beautiful, so complete, and so utterly beyond description that we can only accept it unconditionally and revel in it unquestionably. As scripture says, “He was transfigured before them.” In other words he became someone who was touched by the divine. No longer seeing Him as a mortal being, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”
Do we need to be transfigured like Jesus to find happiness? Let me quote an ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu – “
“He who is contented is rich.”
Finding contentment in our lives is finding the road to happiness. Here is what one writer, Leo Babauta, had to say about it:
“There has been little in my life that has made as much an impact as learning to be content — with my life, where I am, what I’m doing, what I have, who I’m with, who I am.
This little trick changes everything.
Let’s take a look at my life before contentedness:
I was addicted to junk food and fast food, and overweight and unhealthy. I bought too many things on impulse, owned too much clutter, and was deeply in debt and struggling to make it to the next payday. I was unhappy with who I was, wanted desperately to change, tried a thousand different programs and books. I was always worried I was missing out on exciting things, and wanted so much to be out doing the fun things everyone else was doing. I was always changing the way I did things, because it seemed everyone else had a better system or tools. I strove to meet goals, because they would get me to a better life.
And as I learned to be content, here was what changed:
I learned to be happy with healthier food, with less food, and my health improved and waistline shrunk. I relied on a good book, spending time with people I loved, going for a nice run … and my debt began to be reduced as I learned I didn’t need to spend money to enjoy myself. I learned to be happier with who I was, and what I was doing, and so no longer needed self-improvement books and programs, no longer needed to try all kinds of new systems and tools. I became happy with myself, with those around me, and with what I had — and so didn’t need to strive to change everything. Letting go of goals helped me to simplify things so I had less to worry about, less to do.
That’s just the start. There is no way to account for the tremendous change that happens when you learn to accept who you are, when you tell yourself you are perfect just as you are, just as God made you, when you love yourself and everything about yourself. You stop criticizing yourself, you are happier, you are a better person to be around, and you can now help others and work without the insecurities you had before.”
Another writer, Joshua Becker, says this:
1. Become grateful. It is impossible to develop contentment without gratitude – they are inseparable. And a grateful person is one who has learned to focus on the good things in their life, not the things that they lack. When you begin to question what you have to be grateful for, just start making a list – a literal list of all the good things in your life. Don’t worry about finishing, you don’t need to. The simple discipline of beginning the exercise will undoubtedly shift your focus back to the many good things you already have.
2. Take control of your attitude. A person who lacks contentment in their life will often engage in “when and then thinking” – “when i get _______, then i will be happy.” Instead take control of your own life. Remember, your happiness is not reliant on the acquisition of any possession. Your happiness is based solely on your decision to be happy – and this may be one of the most important life lessons you can ever learn.
3. Break the habit of satisfying discontentment with acquisitions. For many of us, it has been ingrained into our lives that the proper way to diffuse discontent is to purchase the outward item that is seemingly causing the discontentment. Almost no energy is spent determining the true root of the discontent. Are you dissatisfied with your wardrobe? Go buy new clothes. Not content with your vehicle? Go buy a new one. We have gotten into the habit of satisfying our discontent by simply spending more money. We must break that habit. Understand that material possessions will never fully satisfy the desires of your heart (that’s why discontent always returns). The next time you recognize discontentment surfacing in your life, refuse to give into that bad habit. Instead, commit to better understand yourself and why the lack of that item is causing discontent. Only after you intentionally break this habit will true contentment begin to surface.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing your life with someone else’s will always lead to discontentment. There will always be people who “appear” to be better off than you and seemingly living the perfect life. But be advised, we always compare the worst of what we know about ourselves to the best assumptions that we make about others. Their life is never as perfect as your mind makes it out to be. You are unique. You are special. And it’s always better that way.
5. Help others. When you begin helping others, sharing your talents, time and money, you will find yourself learning to be content. The practice will give you a finer appreciation for what you own, who you are, and what you have to offer.
6. Be content with what you have, never with what you are. Never stop learning, growing, or discovering. Take pride in your personhood and the progress that you have made, but never become so content that you cannot find room for improvement. Contentment is not the same as complacency. As soon as you stop growing, you start dying.
To me, lasting happiness is found in these things:
The person who agreed to share her life with me.
The three sons we were gifted with by God.
The pleasure of living daily in a blessed land like the Chateauguay Valley.
The good friends we have made here and the blessings of a friendly church family.
The opportunity to give back to God by giving of ourselves some of the time and talent He has blessed us with.
Let us Pray:
Dear God, I pray for happiness.
I pray that I have a cheerful heart.
I pray that others are drawn to my happy smile, my positive attitude, and my face that shines with joy.
Dear God, I know that you have created me and everyone else to be happy, to find joy and laughter in the different stages and experiences of life.
I pray that I express You in my expression of joy.
A cheerful heart is a continual feast.
My outlook is positive, and I feel happy.
My life is a banquet of uplifting experiences.
I feel so good as I release the joy of God from within.
I express God's eternal, loving presence within me.
I pray, daily, that my cheerful heart up lifts me, and brings joy to everyone around me.
In Jesus Christ's name� Amen
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