We were made to be happy — completely satisfied. Yet, most of us often choose things that drain our happiness and lower our satisfaction.
Harvard and Yale now teach courses on happiness, and both institutions agree with God that circumstances don’t make you happier, relationships do.
Circumstances Won’t Make You Happy
Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale who teaches a course on happiness, says, “Most of the circumstantial changes you could make aren’t going to affect your happiness that much.” She goes on to explain that this is particularly true with money, the very thing too many of us seek for happiness. After you’re earning a middle-class income, earning more money doesn’t make you much happier. There’s evidence that if you’re earning around $75,000 … doubling or even quintupling your income won’t actually affect your happiness at all. It won’t decrease your stress. It won’t increase your positive emotion. It just doesn’t have the effect we think.” (1)
Author Brooks, who teaches Managing Happiness as part of The Harvard MBA program, says it this way, “Our brains mislead us into chasing things that feel good but don’t result in sustained happiness. Those things are often what he calls the four false idols: money, power, pleasure, and fame. Like drugs, they tickle our dopamine receptors, but unlike drugs they’re socially acceptable because they’re all markers of success. Yet a success addiction, like a drug addiction, will still leave you unhappy in the long run. “Nobody is ever like, ‘Dude, you did five grams of cocaine today, congratulations on that, that’s a preternaturally high dose!’” Brooks tells me, with gusto. “But ‘You made a billion dollars!’ is sort of the same thing.” (2)
“However, adding more and more money, pleasure, and prestige to our lives brings no further satisfaction, and we kind of understand this as a culture. In fact, the third most popular rock and roll song is I Can’t Get No Satisfaction… The problem isn’t that you can’t get any satisfaction — it’s that you can’t keep any satisfaction. That’s the problem; if you couldn’t get it, you wouldn’t try for it. You can’t keep it because satisfaction is not a function of what you have. You have the wrong model, you need to switch.” (3)
Jesus teaches us this way, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” - Matthew 6:19-24
Relationships and Life Purpose Satisfy
“Instead of chasing those idols, Brooks advises that we focus on what he calls the four pillars of our “happiness portfolio”: faith, family, friends, and work. The happiest people, according to Brooks, adhere to a belief system that helps them transcend their narrow perspective and “understand life’s bigger than the boring sitcom that is me, me, me.” They have deep family ties and strong friendships. And they do work that serves others and allows them to earn their success." (2)
Our most important relationship is with the One who made us, saves us, and loves us — Jesus Christ. He gave His life so that we may live abundantly. Jesus tells over and over we are meant for relationships and to do the work He has given us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
In His love God Gives Us Great Purpose. When we know we are loved by God, we respond with our whole hearts and lives. After all, God wants our hearts. Jesus told us the most important way to live as a child of God when He gave us the Great Commandment. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). When we live this way, we are transformed and are given greater understanding of God’s will.
Life With Jesus Equals Contentment — Complete Satisfaction
One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This is not teaching us that we can do what we want and Christ will help us accomplish our desire — it’s not about power at our discretion. When we understand the full context of what the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, we see the verse is about contentment with the God who made us. We see clearly that Paul is sharing that our circumstances — low or high, plenty or hunger, abundance or need — do not give us contentment. He is teaching the young church that in Christ alone we are satisfied.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:10-13
It is wonderful that some of our most respected academic institutions agree on what drives happiness and satisfaction. It is even greater to know that our God provides us with all of the purpose, happiness and satisfaction we need.
Join us this week as we discuss how the way we are made leads us from contentment to deploying our gifts in a way that helps others increase their happiness and satisfaction.