The Happiness Paradox


“Should the king in exile pretend he is happy there? Should he not seek his own country? His miseries are his ally; they urge him on. Let them grow, if need be. But do not forsake the secret of life; do not despise those kingly desires. We abandon the most important journey of our lives when we abandon desire. We leave our hearts by the side of the road and head off in the direction of fitting in, getting by, being productive, what have you. Whatever we might gain — money, position, the approval of others, or just absence of the discontent self — it’s not worth it. […] The greatest human tragedy is to give up the search. Nothing is of greater importance than the life of our deep heart. To lose heart is to lose everything.”

— John Eldredge

In 1 Kings 10, the Queen of Sheba travels to Jerusalem to seek wisdom from King Solomon. This was no easy journey — assuming she and her caravan continued nonstop (from what is now modern-day Ethiopia), it would have taken a minimum of one month to arrive. It is more likely, however, that the trip took nearly three months to reach Jerusalem (traveling for 8-10 hours each day). The Queen of Sheba was after something. Notice that she’s the queen — she already has riches and power. Knowing that what she has does not satisfy, she seeks wisdom from the wealthiest king of the ancient world. Solomon, a man all too familiar with the misconceptions and disappointments of riches and power, “[answers] all of her questions. There was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her” (1 Kings 10:3). This woman — whose name is not even mentioned in the Bible — realized that the greatest desire of the human heart, the desire we all try to satisfy with the things of the world, could only be satisfied by the wisdom, understanding, and relational contentment that only comes from God.

Matthew Kelly said it like this: “On one hand, we all want to be happy. On the other hand, we all know what will make us happy. But we don’t do those things. Why? Simple. We are too busy. Too busy doing what? Too busy trying to be happy.”

We live in a perpetual rat race. We are all viciously chasing after societal success, maxing out credit cards as if the debt can drown out the unspoken vanity of life. But beneath the facade of success is an emptiness of the soul most are far too accompanied with. The truth is that if we base our own happiness off of anything that we do, we will never fully achieve it. Sure, we may acquire temporary pleasures and experiences, but no material effort of ourselves will ever result in everlasting joy. We are left with the fleeting vapor of temporal bliss.

My possessions won’t make me happy. My degree won’t make me happy. My achievements won’t make me happy. My career won’t make me happy.

Now, don’t miss the point here — there is nothing wrong with enjoying what you have and what you do. In fact, you should. But to base your happiness off of what you have or do is to miss the point of Jesus.

We as Americans boast in the freedom that we have. But are we really? Now, I love my country and proudly stand up for the fundamental values of it. However, the vast majority of society is imprisoned by the chains of so-called “success” and the false realities of happiness. Many work a job they hate, don’t take care of their body, have terrible family relationships, and have completely neglected any sort of spiritual discipline. People don’t work out because they are too busy. They don’t read because they are too busy. They don’t prioritize relationships because they are too busy. And worst of all, they reject God (whether consciously or subconsciously) because they are too busy. And as Matthew Kelly says, they are “too busy trying to be happy.”

However, by understanding the freedom I have in Christ, I can now boast in my happiness and laugh at the standards and pressures of society. Rather than happiness being some distant, mysterious force that I will only experience after toiling away at a degree, career, etc., I have the opportunity every day to experience ultimate happiness and joy by being in the presence of my Creator and Savior. And, once I recognize this freedom, I can then enjoy all that is within this world without seeking it out as my source for ultimate happiness.

So that degree? I can work for it. That achievement? Great. All the times I’ve spent in the Caribbean? Amazing. But we must recognize that happiness comes from the Giver, not the gift. God is not some supernatural, magic 8-ball — he is a loving Father who showers us with love and grace. He alone has the power to satisfy the human heart, for only He created it.

The journey of the soul is continual unto death. It is not stagnant; much like a ship at sea, the soul is always moving. I pray that your soul is moving towards its everlasting home of heaven, currently sailing the waves of God’s grace and love.

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