May 25, 2018

Is there any point trying to be happy?

Most of us spend our lives searching for happiness, but all the ideas are either hard to do or fleeting in their success. Is there any way to find complete, lasting contentment or should we just give up the struggle?

Have you ever considered the world and its flaws, your life and its pains, your neighbour in the upstairs flat and their inability to tread quietly, and wondered: what’s the point; will things ever get better? I know I have.

Sometimes it feels really hard to be happy. So I’ve thought of ways to make yourself miserable instead, because it seems like that has a higher success rate:

  • List all the things you’re ungrateful for
  • Push someone out of the way when you’re getting onto the tube—your ability to breathe is far more important than theirs
  • Pity yourself constantly (save someone else the effort)
  • Complain. About the weather, your job, that noisy neighbour, or anything really (hopefully you’ll use up some of your limited breath in the process).

Are you feeling stressed and depressed yet?

It’s okay, if you Google ‘how to be happy’, the Internet will provide you with approximately 183,000,000 suggestions in 0.56 seconds. These include: setting yourself goals, looking after your body, smiling more, pursuing things you love, and—apparently—182,999,996 other ideas for you to try.

Yet for all these solutions, one out of every six Brits suffers with depression and/or anxiety per year, and I’m guessing a whole six out of six Brits feel anxious or sad at some point during that period (let’s be honest, probably most days!). There’s certainly no fool-proof solution to the perpetuating discontent in most of our lives, and all the ideas that are given are either hard to achieve or fleeting at best: The holiday ends. The promotion gives you more money, but less time with friends and family. The new designer shoes get scuffed. No sooner do we have something to be happy about, than it slips our grasp, or something bad comes and snatches it away.

Even if you are a really cheerful person, you will have experienced times where your happiness is quick to leave you, and there will be areas of your life that you feel discontent with. Can you think of anything in your life that brings you complete, pure contentment and totally satisfies your inner hunger to feel peaceful and happy?

The Bible actually has something to say about the difficulty of securing happiness, particularly happiness that prevails. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes describes everything in life as ‘vanity’ and ‘meaningless’, referring to its lack of substance. The famous phrase ‘Eat, drink and be merry’, actually comes from this book:

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad [1].

This exhortation is loaded with irony. You can ‘eat, drink and be merry’ if you want, but you’re going to die anyway. Pleasure is futile, and it is fleeting.

Maybe you can settle for this. Most of us search for happiness in our lives, and would rather give ourselves to chasing it than let ourselves be crushed by misery. Despite the fact it may be easier to be discontent, we’d rather have temporary and challenging happiness than none at all. There seems to be an innate desire within us to feel joy, but if there is no lasting satisfaction this desire is self-defeating and frustrating. It is logical to assume that there are evolutionary benefits to contentment; it is often linked to productivity and prosperity. Perhaps it is the cycle of unfulfilled desires that has driven us to keep developing. But if that’s true, can you settle for it? Is the best outcome really to chase down the next dopamine hit in pursuit of a happiness that never fails to elude you? Does this relentless striving strike you as the best outcome? What if there was a way of satisfying our need for joy? What if I told you that I have found it, and that millions of others have, too?

The idea of ‘God’ will bring various connotations to mind, but rarely do we associate God with happiness. Yet, the Bible refers to ‘delight’ numerous times. According to the Christian faith, if there’s a God, he’s a happy one, and he wants us to be happy. This is so far from the stereotypical images of a vindictive, angry god, or a god who is distant. The God of the Bible created people in his image to know happiness, to enjoy his creation and ultimately to delight in him. He both caused us to desire joy and provides the fulfillment of that joy. This is the opposite of meaninglessness, vanity and despair; this is fulfillment, hope and joy.

This belief in God, and the knowledge that he made us to enjoy him, gives me as a Christian a bigger-picture perspective. Some days will be good, and some will be bad, but I trust in a God who is bigger than whatever situations I may face. This has given me a contentment that no pursuit of happiness through worldly means could have.

[1] Ecclesiastes 8:15, The Bible

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Georgie Hosier

Georgie Hosier
Georgie is a student at SOAS studying Middle Eastern Studies and Economics and competes with Jeremy as the greatest oversharer at Salt.

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