Written into the mindset of Americans is the pursuit of happiness as a natural, God-given right. That doctrine is oft thought to originate in the Bible, but the language actually appears in the Declaration of Independence, and is perhaps its most famous phrase. So, how do we pursue happiness?
Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has described social science research that indicates a path to happiness includes four values: faith, family, community, and work.
Faith helps you make sense of the world we live in, including death and suffering. It gives you identity, and provides ultimate answers like where you came from, why you are here, and where you are going. Having a family that loves you means there are people who feel your pain and share your joys. This doesn’t preclude a single person from finding happiness because there is also the benefit of community. Having a group of friends who know you very well and enjoy your company is the antidote to the pervasive loneliness in our cocooned society. (Social media doesn’t count!) Happiness from work is counter-intuitive because we think of it as drudgery. But you are more likely to find happiness if your occupation (paid or unpaid) is a means to making the world a better place.
Looking for happiness from politicians who create rights is a futile pursuit. America has been called a “city with foundations,” i.e. God, not government gives rights. Senator Ben Sasse, speaking recently at the Gospel Coalition national conference, told Christians, “We have the task of setting up an embassy that says your yearning for a city with foundations is natural, but the king that you yearn for is supernatural. And he is coming again as a liberator. He has already arrived on a distant shore.” Government can secure your right to pursue happiness, but your deep yearnings are actually for the love, community, and purpose that God provides.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal identified the true object of your pursuit like this: “What else does this longing and helplessness proclaim, but that there was once in each person a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? We try to fill this in vain… This infinite abyss can only be filled with something that is infinite and unchanging – in other words, by God himself. God alone is our true good.”
Jesus did not prioritize the pursuit of happiness for its own sake. What He modeled, sacrifice for the benefit of others, doesn’t sound much like the immediate gratification that popular culture pursues as happiness. Christian joy and happiness comes from the hope and promise of a fulfilled, purposeful life of following Jesus. “How blessed (happy) are the people whose God is the Lord! (Psa. 144:15).