Are You Pretending to Be Happy?
Walk through any bookstore in America, and you might think we have the corner on happiness.
Cover after cover promises some secret to new or deeper contentment, each selling tens of thousands of copies. Habits, relationships, food, forgiveness, work, exercise, minimalism — you can choose from a thousand different recipes for happiness. Whether people are actually reading the books or not anymore, all the pages suggest we are wealthy in happiness.
But the real secret is that while we’re swimming in money, comfort, and entertainment — and countless books on happiness — we’re still starving for happiness. All the new titles published each year do not prove we’ve figured out what will make us happy. They’re evidence of famine. Thousands of pages of cake pictures piled in front of crowds fainting for lack of food.
Starving in Paradise
Almost three thousand years ago, the prophet Isaiah Instagrammed a picture of our twenty-first-century spiritual and emotional hunger. He warns anyone who might oppose the Lord,
As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched, so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion. (Isaiah 29:8)
The starving man has to take a nap — or watch Netflix for a few hours — just to get any relief. The thirsty woman, in her unconscious moments, imagines herself drowning in gallons of purified water. Pain rips her from paradise, as her organs are slowly drying out and failing. Have we experimented with the American Dream long enough to see it for what it is? We think we’re living the life, but are we really just waiting for the alarm clock to go off? American Dream is right, and if we want to be happy, we’ll have to wake up.
If you want the secret to true happiness — to a full and satisfied heart — start asking why you have a heart in the first place. Why did God make you? You are not alive simply to enjoy as much pleasure or comfort as you can in seventy or more years. That’s why millionaires commit suicide.
No, whether you live seventy years or seventeen, God has filled your life with more potential than the highest-paid celebrities, the wealthiest businessmen, and the most successful athletes — if you will trust him. All their movies, their inventions, their highlights, their championships will fade and be forgotten, probably even before you die.
But if you embrace what God wants you to do while you live here on earth, the stories will be told forever — even if you’re overlooked and ignored for a few decades here. And you will find the kind of happiness that happiest people in Hollywood would sell everything to have.
He Knows How to Make You Happy
Your happiness is not about you — not if you want it to last for more than a few minutes. Happiness will always hide from us when we shrink our world down to what we want in the moment, rather than seeing ourselves as part of what God is doing around the world and throughout history.
God says, “[Bring] everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7). If you want to be happy, give your life to the reason God gave you life: his glory. He knit you together in your mother’s womb — every fiber of every muscle, including your heart (Psalm 139:13). He knew every single one of your days before there was one (Psalm 139:16). Thousands of years ago, he knew every detail of your day today. He hears every thought you think — every question, every temptation, every desire.
Don’t you think he might know what will make you happy? If so, he has his own book on happiness. You probably won’t find it in the window display at Barnes & Noble, but it has sold more copies than any other in the history of the world.
Fractions of Joy
King David asked the same question all those books at Barnes & Noble are asking: “Who will show us some good?” (Psalm 4:6). Who will show us something that will make us happy? David answers his own question,
“Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (Psalm 4:6–7)
More joy. Once you know someone has found happiness that food and alcohol (and sex, sports, shopping, and social media) cannot produce, don’t settle for just food and alcohol anymore. Again David writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11). Don’t trade fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore for fractions of joy and moments of pleasure.
Do you really want to be happy if you hear about that kind of happiness and keep scrolling on to something else?
Are You Happy?
What you will never read in this week’s best-seller on happiness is that you will find happiness when you start living for someone else — for the glory of your God. And you will begin to fulfill the purpose for which you were made — to glorify the God who made you — when you are your happiest in him. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” You fulfill the purpose for which you were made, find the happiness you couldn’t find anywhere else, and you may just forget yourself in the process.
How do you know when you’ve found the happiness for which you were made? Look at the next verse in Psalm 4:
“Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:6–7)
You sleep differently. Instead of escaping reality in American dreams, you know the greatest joy is found in the deepest realities. When your life is about God’s glory and your treasure is in heaven — when you have more joy than the rest of the world has in their happiest moments — your soul also finds the sweetest and deepest rest.