Monday, June 7, 2010

Elusive Happiness

We are fortunate to be surrounded by a group of very intelligent and talented friends. One such friend is Professor/Pastor Lawrence Ware. We threw the idea of guest posting out to him, not knowing if he would have the time or even the inclination to write for us, but he agreed without hesitation and we're so pleased that he did. He breaks down the concept/perception of "happiness" in a way that is simple and easily applicable to real life. So without further ado:

Happiness is deceitful.
The root of the word happiness is hap. The explicit use of hap is all but dead in the English language; yet, we find it in other words that can aid us in understanding its meaning: happening and happened. Happiness means pleasure rooted in externalities. In other words, happiness is dependent upon what is happening. If you have a good day, you are happy. If you have a bad day, you are unhappy. If you have a significant other, you are happy; if not, you are unhappy. You get the point.

Our culture reinforces this notion. We are told that if we only had the right body, the right skin complexion, the right kind of hair, the right type of shoes—we would be complete. In fact, just last night, I learned that all I need for happiness was a Big Mac, a new pair of shoes, and a blanket with sleeves. It all made sense. I feel empty inside because I lack a Snuggie. 

Like a donkey chasing a carrot tied to a stick, many passionately pursue what they believe will satisfy their craving for happiness—but it never does. We feel we NEED a cute new pair of shoes. We end up with more money in our closet than our savings account; and then complain about our inability to find anything to wear. Pursuing happiness may feel good temporarily, but it ultimately will leave us further adrift in despair. 

Let me cut to the chase: happiness is not the solution. More money, more clothes, a significant other, another child, a new house will not complete you. 

What is the answer? I can give it to you in one word: contentment.

The word content comes from the 15th Century French word continere. It means to ‘hold in’ or ‘to be contained.’ Put simply, it means that all you need is found within you. What you need to be fulfilled, sustained, and made whole is within you. Let me put it concisely: You complete you.

I’m not talking about lazy complacency, but contentment. That is, feeling satisfied and whole no matter what is happening externally. Yes, you should work hard. Yes, strive for better—but here is the key: do not allow what is happening to dictate your level of satisfaction in life.

Having a bad day at work? Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to work on patience and inner peace. Are your children acting crazy? Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to work on displaying unconditional love. Low on money? Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to work on monetary temperance. View obstacles as opportunities. 

Stop rationalizing your cravings—work to overcome them. Find contentment, and joy will find you.

Lawrence Ware is lecturing professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University and Pastor of Christian Education at Prospect Church. He writes for Tikkun and Religion Dispatchers all while living in Oklahoma City with his wife and son.


Ashley said...

Powerful post! And the title is so appropriate.

I am going through something right now in my personal life that is forcing my hand to make some serious decisions. Today I decided to read through a few of the PLPT posts. This is just what I needed to read! It is so true that "Happiness is deceitful." I'm realizing that if you are not careful to focus on what is everlasting, the desire to be happy (as simple and as innocent as it sounds) can create this mirage of greener pastures while allowing you to run away from the very thing that is actually good for you and that may even be the blessing that God has in store for you.

Chic Mommy, Cool Kid said...

Ashley we are so glad you could find what you needed, just when you needed it, at PLPT. We strive to be a source of inspiration and to let people know they are not alone in whatever they are facing. Good luck in your journey; trust life to help you make the right decisions.

Anonymous said...

I read this post on my phone and forgot to stroll over and comment! Just wanted to say thank you - this has made a difference for me.

GG said...

Me too, PGL. I've read back through this a few times since it was posted to reinforce it. It really helped me put things in perspective one day last week when I swear everything that COULD go wrong, went wrong! :)

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