What is the true source of happiness?
Many days I have found myself warning my children to guard against the pop culture message advising them to make themselves happy by fulfilling selfish desires and impulses. Society sends the message that happiness is paramount, is worth pursuing at any cost, and that everyone deserves to be happy at any and every moment. Society says we should not permit others to interfere with achieving true happiness, especially those who seek to make us feel guilt and shame, or those who seemingly pass judgement upon our behavior. Society seems to believe that if everyone will just “do whatever makes him feel good,” without guilt or judgement by others, then everyone will be truly happy.
Following this logic, everyone should prioritize his selfish impulses to be lazy, have sex, overeat, or whatever – without fear of guilt, judgement, or reprisals. Mankind should exist in a world free of consequences for life choices so that each man may decide for himself what would best satisfy his pursuit of happiness. After all, you only live once. YOLO! Right?
Except it’s not right because embracing a YOLO mentality means trading the truth for a lie. YOLO is the antithesis of Christianity. Embedded into this seemingly harmless phrase is the denial of God, the salvation given to us by His grace and mercy through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, and the everlasting life we have been promised if we know that “our old sinful selves have been crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6). The very idea that you only live once is a complete affront to a Christian world view.
Too bad for me, because it wasn’t out of the mouths of atheists that I first heard YOLO. Instead, I heard it rolling out of the mouths of my students at school (who predominately identified as Christians), my children at home, and even some of my Sunday school class mates. I think I even heard myself utter this offensive phrase a time or two – a condition I now equate with singing the lyrics to popular 80’s songs without clearly understanding their meaning (if you lived in the 80’s you know exactly what I mean). It wasn’t until I stopped to ponder the meaning of YOLO that I began to realize its perverseness.
Following the moment of that epiphany, I began to notice that signs of these two messages, “you only live once” and “do whatever makes you feel good,” were all around. Those words were printed on pajamas for sale at Wal-Mart (the latter was also printed on the front of girls’ panties for sale there). Those ideas are spouted by celebrities all over social media. Those concepts are woven into the lyrics of popular music. They are everywhere! But what is their true purpose? Are these ideas actually making people happier?
A cursory review of the news on any given day reveals the answer – a resounding NO! Our modern culture is the most depressed, anxious, neurotic, stressed out, and mentally disabled of any before in history. That is the legacy that the denial of Christ, the rejection of the gift of salvation, and the mockery of promises God has made to us is creating for our children. It was Satan who uttered these disastrous words into the world in order to separate us from God, and we Christians embraced them with a vengeance.
The sad truth is that doing whatever makes you feel good will only make you feel “good” for a while, and you will need to keep outdoing yourself to acquire the same feeling again and again. It’s like needing more and more of a drug in order to get high, so we might as well face it: nothing we do selfishly to pursue happiness can permanently satisfy our desire to be happy in this world.
So are we doomed? Are we destined to remain anxious and depressed as we chase the dream of happiness like a dog chases it’s tail? Praise be to God, the answer is again NO!
The truth about happiness is that it’s not a direct effect, it’s a by-product of love and service to your neighbor, to your enemy, and to everyone in between. True happiness cannot be derived by loving and serving only yourself; it is derived by loving and serving others, after the example of Christ. And by loving others, let me be clear that I do not mean “lovey-dovey” feelings, I mean love as a verb – something you DO.
How each of us chooses to love and serve others might look different from one person to another. After all, not everyone is cut out to leave his home and family to become an international missionary! Fortunately, there are opportunities to love and serve others all around. Here are ten acts of service and love that virtually anyone can do:
Anonymously pay for someone’s coffee the next time you’re at Starbucks.
Volunteer to mentor troubled youths at your local junior high school.
Tutor a neighbor’s child in math.
Participate in a walk-a-thon to raise money for children with cancer.
Stand in a public area holding a sign offering “free hugs” to anyone.
Offer to help an elderly lady load her groceries into her car.
Leave a sticky note with a positive message on someone’s car window.
Pick up and throw away trash you see on the ground that is NOT yours.
Let a pregnant woman in line to use the bathroom go ahead of you.
Allow the guy who just entered the highway to merge in front of you easily.