"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philipians 3:13b,14

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Happiness Trap (Or, "How Not to Swallow a Petting Zoo")

~"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their mind to be." Abraham Lincoln

~"Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product." Eleanor Roosevelt

~"The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment." Doug Larson


Sometimes, happiness seems impossible.

Have you ever experienced a period in your life like that? It can be due to financial woes, or relationship conflict, depression, anxiety, unemployment, deployment, infertility, being overwhelmed by a personal loss, weight gain, unbearable family tension..... you name it. Often, there seems to be a mile-long list of reasons NOT to be happy.

Happiness is, after all, directly related to our circumstances, right?

......but wait. Circumstances aren't always within our control. If you've lived in this world longer than a nanosecond, you know that to be true. So, then, if we go with the supposition that our happiness is circumstantial...... well.....

.....to put it bluntly, we're kind of screwed.

Here's a thought- what if the notion that we "need to be happy" and pursue any means necessary in order to acquire such happiness..... is a trap? Suppose the very idea that there is a particular road that leads us to the destination of happiness is a lie?

I believe that is exactly the case. I have found, over and over again (ad nauseum) that happiness; true, lasting, enduring happiness, comes as a direct result of doing the right thing. Even if, in the moment, doing the right thing makes me unhappy.


I mean, I want to tell you that you're free to do anything and everything and spare nothing in the quest for your own happiness. Then you'll like me. And you'll want to be my best friend and possibly give me Red Vines and Swedish Fish.

But I would be lying. You want to know how I KNOW that?

...because I've told myself that very lie. And believed it. (How, oh HOW do I continually believe my own lies? You think I would learn.....)

Trying to make yourself happy by chasing after that "happiness feeling" is like this-

Do you know who that is??

That's the old lady who swallowed the fly!

So, you know, you swallow a fly. That's kind of how it starts. There's a small, nagging thing that is making you unhappy. So you seek to remedy the situation. Maybe all of your friends have nicer clothes than you do. Every time you're around them you feel dumpy and this makes you unhappy, so you need to get a new wardrobe.

.....then you swallow a spider. A little bigger. Now that you have a new wardrobe, you see that is was actually your HAIR that is the problem.

.....then you swallow a bird. You feel even worse, because now you're overspent, and you still feel like you're not meeting up to the standards of the people around you.

.....then you swallow a cat. Let's say this scenario started out with a slight bit of unhappiness with your spouse. By this time you've told all your friends what a jerk your spouse is,withdrawn from him or her to protect yourself from getting hurt, and you're at the point of giving an ultimatum- they need to start making you happy or you've had it. What started out as fly-sized unhappiness over a small matter is now cat-sized unhappiness. Or say it was dissatisfaction with your job. By the time you get to this point, your boss is a royal idiot, and possibly violating labor laws, and your co-workers all hate you. Maybe because you didn't get your vacation schedule approved. But it escalates every time you try and fix the situation to make yourself happy. Then it gets to dog-sized unhappiness, then goat-sized, then cow-sized.....

.....DON'T swallow a horse. Seriously, when you're at the fly stage, stop. STOP!

After you stop, take a deep breath. Now, think. Not about your happiness, and how to obtain it.

Contemplate what the very next right thing is. Then do that thing. Then, do that again. And again.

I promise you, THAT will make you far happier than trying to sort out exactly HOW you are going to gain control over the situation you're in so that you can be happy.

The quest for "happiness" leads people to all sorts of dismal destinations. Infidelity. Theft. Overwhelming debt. Lies. Promiscuity. Fraud. Eating disorders. Being phony. Bitterness. Loneliness.

Having the perfect body, or being married to the most wonderful person in the world, or being rich, or being "better" than everyone around you..... none of things will make you happy, in the end. Look around. Look at the people who are in the limelight that have those things. They are some of the most unhappy.

That's the paradox. When I stop focusing on my unhappiness, and think instead of how to live with integrity so that my life honors and glorifies God, I become happy. Really happy. Not just the happiness of finding a $20 bill in my pocket. Happy, like at the end of the day putting my head on the pillow, smiling, and sighing with contentment happy. Getting to the end of your life without regrets happy. That's good stuff.

I challenge you, as I challenge myself- look at happiness as a by-product of right living. Not right as in "I do everything correctly", but right as in, "I keep trying to do the next right thing."

....plus, then you won't swallow a petting zoo. No one wants that.