Psychotherapist Lynne Rosen and motivational speaker John Littig cohosted an hour-long radio show on WBAI in New York called The Pursuit of Happiness. But this Brooklyn couple’s final act was putting plastic bags over each other’s heads and committing suicide.
Rosen and Littig were experts in pursuing happiness yet failures in catching it. This tragic couple epitomizes the irony that the more we advertise and purchase products, events, and books intended to make us happy, the unhappier we may become.
In 1997, thirty-nine members of the cult Heaven’s Gate, led by Marshall Applewhite, participated in a mass suicide. They’d been taught that once they exited their earthly bodies, they would land on a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet. At the time of their death, each member carried a five-dollar bill and three quarters. Why? To pay an interplanetary toll.
Most of us shake our heads in amazement at this kind of gullibility. Yet we fail to see the futility of our own attempts to find happiness. Many people try the age-old practices of turning to money, sex, power, beauty, sports, nature, music, art, education, work, or celebrity for happiness. In the end, each of these proves as big a lie as a spaceship on a comet’s tail. The problem for the Heaven’s Gate followers wasn’t that they trusted too much; it was that they trusted the wrong person. Only Jesus was worthy of their trust. Only He could have granted them, in this life and for eternity, the deep and lasting happiness they sought.
The same is true for the most superficial materialist and the most devout saint: all of us are wired to seek happiness.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote, “Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action.”
Centuries later, French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784) said essentially the same thing: “There is only one passion, the passion for happiness.”
Even Charles Darwin (1809–1882), best known as the father of evolutionary theory, wrote, “All sentient beings have been formed so as to enjoy, as a general rule, happiness.” William James (1842–1910), the philosopher and psychologist, wrote, “How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.”
The quest for happiness transcends gender, age, and life circumstances. Holocaust victim Anne Frank (1929–1945) wrote as a teenager, “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”
In an 1898 article arguing against religion, L. K. Washburn said, “There is a constant mental pilgrimage towards that Mecca of the human heart—happiness. . . . Everybody wants to be happy, and thinks, strives, wishes, and lives to that end.”
How many subjects do Puritans, philosophers, atheists, and agnostics emphatically agree on? One of the few is our innate longing for happiness.
In The Discarded Image, C. S. Lewis references a vivid simile in Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” to illustrate that human beings have “some inkling of the truth,” even if they go about seeking it in the wrong way. The knight describes the human journey this way: “All men know that the true good is Happiness, and all men seek it, but, for the most part, by wrong routes—like a drunk man who knows he has a house but can’t find his way home.”
The human race is homesick for Eden, which only two humans have ever known. We spend our lives chasing peaceful delight, following dead ends or cul-de-sacs in pursuit of home.
We know intuitively that we’ve wandered. What we don’t know is how to return. Our lives are largely the story of the often wrong and occasionally right turns we take in our attempts to get home to Happiness with a capital H—God Himself.
World peace and universal happiness seem like utopian dreams, but these dreams are not far-fetched, because according to God’s Word, utopia once existed and will again. (What is far-fetched is believing we are capable of creating this utopia ourselves!)
It should delight us to hear that the future involves a return to Paradise. Jesus promised His disciples that one day there will be a “renewal of all things” (NIV), which the English Standard Version translates as “the new world” and the Complete Jewish Bible renders as “the regenerated world” (Matthew 19:28).
Just as we’ll take on our eternal, resurrected bodies, the world itself will be resurrected. Peter preached that Christ would not return “until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:21). The New Century Version translates this as “when all things will be made right again.” Our entire experience on the New Earth will be of happiness far greater than Adam and Eve could have ever imagined!
The past will be remembered as that temporary period of rebellion when God’s creatures turned from Him. We’ll celebrate endlessly that Jesus entered our history to redeem us and to restore the shared happiness of God and His people.
As God’s children, we have a history of His faithfulness in the past and an assurance of a secure future, which should define how we view our present. This perspective can infuse us with happiness even in what would otherwise be the unhappiest times of our lives. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV).For more, see Randy's blogs on happiness, as well as his book Happiness.