When Greg Reid asked me to write an article on the secret of happiness I was intrigued. Like Greg, as a writer and wordsmith I am always thinking about descriptions, explanations and understandings of human nature and the way you and I navigate our time on earth. Happiness it appears is a topic that is thought about, sought after and high on the list of objective goals for most of us. It certainly has garnered enormous interest from the famous and not so famous about what happiness is or is not, testifying to its broad appeal.
In the United States, as an example, the Declaration of Independence not only tells us that we are all created equal but that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately there is no guidance as to what happiness is or where we might find it. This appears to be the problem. Happiness is in the eye of the beholder and consequently there are many opinions as to what it is and where it can be found. At best happiness is illusive, difficult to attain and almost impossible to retain for any length of time.
Audrey Hepburn once said that the most important thing is to enjoy life….to be happy, she said, “It’s all that matters.” On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln commented that, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Chuck Palahniuk in his Diary wrote, “It’s so hard to forget pain but it is even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”
Happiness is a byproduct of life’s journey, not an end in itself
If you can accept that life is a journey we are all taking and that along the way we have moments of happiness interspersed with disappointments, setbacks and trials, then the pursuit of happiness can be tempered with perspective. Happiness may be desirable and even a worthy goal, but perhaps not a life’s objective. It might be better thought of as a byproduct of our journey. Pleasant surprises or lagniappes along the way as we seek truth and discovery in our journey.
Such questions as who am I? What is the meaning of life? Can I leave a worthwhile legacy? How can I fulfill the central purpose of my life? What is that purpose? This is the secret of finding happiness. As Soren Kierkegard wrote in his journal “… to find a truth for which I can live and die.” Life’s real purpose is both personal and passionate.
We live in a flawed and broken world where evil exists and truth is often hijacked and driven into obscurity by those who choose to replace what is authentic by what is fake. Consequently much of what we strive for turns out to be less that we desired which is one reason why happiness is so elusive. As John Eldridge points out in “Journey of Desire” “having it all simply isn’t enough.”
No wonder we are on a perpetual roller coaster trying to arrive at the depot of happiness. I have a grandson, Nathaniel, who is three years old. I have watched programs with him on Nick Jr. like, The Backyardigans, Wonder Pets, Dora the Explorer and Blues Clues. Blues Clues is about a dog named Blue and his owners Steve and Joe. They run around looking for paw prints from their dog Blue which reveals clues to a puzzle they must solve. I think that is how we find happiness, looking for and seeking clues along the way. In fact that is how I think I found God, finding and identifying little clues along the way. As an example, I discovered fear in combat in Vietnam and began looking for the giver of courage and peace and joy. I discovered goodness and grace and gifts such as music and love and laughter and I wonder if these are clues to happiness?
So here we are on our journey made up of a string of moments where we traffic in eternal paths, birth, death, sickness, triumphs, tragedies, all on the cutting edge of life and death. We are given this life, this journey, as a gift, so much of which we have not chosen, cannot control or change — our date of birth, the color of our eyes, and so many other things — that we are often shocked at how little we can or do control. Along the way, we keep trying to find the clues that might provide us the secret to happiness and knowing truth.
The one thing we can control
But there is one thing we can control and that is to decide to do eternal good in God’s universe. My Dad always told me that life was about others. Ten years after his death, I know he was right. I have tried to retire three times after selling three companies and now realize there is no happiness in being inert. Happiness has no destination. It is found in having something to do in service to others. It is found in loving and being loved. It is found in something to live for and its horizon is eternal.
Alexis de Tocqueville, in “Ages of Faith”, observed, “The final aim of life is beyond life.” Here are a few thoughts from some other thinkers on happiness:
The greatest happiness for the greatest numbers is the foundation of all morals and legislation. — Jeremy Benthem, 1748-1832
….happiness is not an ideal of reason but imagination. — Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804
Happiness is a mystery like religion and should not be rationalized. — G.K. Chesterton. 1874-1936
When I was a child I thought success spelled happiness. I was wrong. Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment but soon flits away. — Anna Pavlova, 1881-1931
A lifetime of happiness…no man alive could bear it. — George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950
So what is the truth as it relates to the secret of happiness? The journey demands an answer. One of the things I have learned in life and business is that you must have an exit strategy. Every trip comes to an end, even if we do not plan for it. Death is the most democratic institution on earth, one out of one, rich, poor, famous, anonymous, all the same. Two people a second, 6,000 an hour, 155 thousand every day and 57 million a year, no one escapes.
How do we come to terms with happiness in the face of extinction? Perhaps we should consider who is accompanying us along the way. I believe that it is God the Father who sees us through it all. And through it all is the appropriate phrase.
If you and I were to contemplate our last day on earth what kind of life would we have liked to live? Being happy and fulfilled would undoubtedly be at the top of the list. Perhaps other things like health, and status, career, family, success might be thought of as important.
But there is something counterintuitive here that I believe with thought all of us would recognize. We are all sufferers from time to time. We are perpetually in search of happiness when life turns sour, when divorce comes or a child dies, or a job is lost, health declines or unthinkable horror walks into a school and leaves a wake of death and destruction in its path.
What is the secret of happiness? Who or what are we trusting in our journey? Who or what is the object of our faith?
The poet Patrick Kavanaugh put it best:
“Can you hear it?” he queries. “Can you hear it?”
“It is the promise set loose at the resurrection of Christ?
A laugh freed for ever and ever.
This, the last laugh of hilarity, echoing down through eternity,
The true echo of Eden.”
…..redemption, fullness, completeness, goodness returned.
The Journey Redeemed.
Happiness and joy achieved.