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What makes you happy?

Stuart-SmalleyEvery day when I come home from work, my dog greets me wagging her tail, excitedly jumping around and hoping I don’t notice that she pulled my (insert object of the day here) off the counter and chewed it into pieces. Just once, I wish I could be that happy. I wish anything made me as happy as my dog gets by getting to sniff some grass. Could anyone be that happy? Is it even possible?

Throughout most of my life, I’ve thought of happiness — true happiness — to be kind of like a fancy Porsche: I recognize its awesomeness when I see it, but realize I could never have it myself. But maybe I was looking at happiness the wrong way. Maybe it’s more obtainable; I just have to know where to look.

So I decided to seek some guidance. I went to the bookstore, which is a place where they sell the books on your Kindle except they’re printed out on actual paper. The Self-Help section had hundreds of books. I didn’t know where to begin. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good information from reading the book covers and I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy any of that crap. That’s when I was approached by a clerk with blue pigtails.

“Do you need any help?” she asked. It was kind of a stupid question, considering the section in which I stood.

“I want to be happy. Can you help with that?”

“Sure, it’s called Ecstasy. That’ll be $35.”

I didn’t have $35, so I needed to find a different answer. It seemed strange to me that she thought you could buy happiness, but I guess that’s a common misconception. In our materialistic culture, people think the things they own will make them happy.

“Check it out, neighbor! My new luxury SUV is made of solid gold, has a 3-D plasma screen TV built into the windshield, and a robotic arm that massages my scrotum while I drive. Now don’t look at me like that; it’s good for your prostate health. Anyway, I know what you’re thinking: All that luxury and no power, right? Wrong. This baby’s 120,000 horsepower. Runs on rocket fuel. It’s a little expensive in this economy, but totally worth it.”

I’ve never really bought into that kind of materialism. I think the Beatles were right when they said “I don’t care too much for money; money can’t buy me love.” Of course, the Beatles also said “give me money; that’s what I want.” If the Beatles can’t figure this thing out, what chance do I have? I really hope that material possessions aren’t the key to happiness, though, since I can’t afford them. So I decided to look at some other popular theories for finding happiness.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that you should “write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” He was one of many who believe that positive thinking leads to happiness and success. Adherents may do things like repeat daily affirmations, post inspiring quotes on Facebook, or listen to recordings of dolphins laughing because “it turns out it’s the happiest sound on earth; it’s scientifically proven!”

On second thought, dolphins are gang rapists, so maybe it’s best not to use them for inspiration.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls,” said a stereotypical hippie that I made up for this post. I guess it makes sense that if you do things you enjoy, you will be happier. But what makes me happy? What makes me feel the way my dog feels when she gets to pee on a previously-marked piece of grass?

Cream cheese is the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, it can be icing on a carrot cake, filling in a cheesecake, spread on a bagel, or you can just dip random foods into it! Still, as awesome as cream cheese is, I can’t help but feel that it’s not enough to sustain lifelong happiness. I needed something bigger. Music makes me happy, but it can also be painful, such as when someone decides to play a Maroon 5 song. Being in love makes me happy, but it can also be painful, such as after a breakup, when feelings are unrequited, or when getting a sprained back after trying a new position.

Helping others makes me happy. It can be something small like carrying an old lady’s groceries or something bigger like doing volunteer work. Getting feedback about the help makes me especially happy, like when I get a letter from the child I sponsor in Malawi. It brings a smile to my face when I see 10% of my income automatically deducted from my bank account to go to my church tithe. That one is more complicated, though. I start out feeling good but then the tide quickly turns. There you go, God. Go do something good with that money. You’re welcome, Jesus. But then I panic and wonder if there is actually money in my bank account to cover that. I frantically pull up my bank statement online and then breathe a sigh of relief that there is still money in my account. Thank you, Jesus.

Altruism, of course, seems to go against human nature. It certainly conflicts with our culture’s social Darwinist ideologies. Still, maybe there’s a reason why I’m my happiest when I am being obedient to God. C. S. Lewis wrote that “God invented us as man invents an engine: A car is made to run on petrol and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself.”

Many Christians believe that everyone has a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts. In Confessions, Augustine wrote “Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find rest in you.” Perhaps Blaise Pascal put it best: “There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace.  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.”

If I continue to try to find happiness from the world outside me, I’ll continue to fail. This is a broken world and it will often let me down. Love will lead to heartbreak, bank accounts will go empty, the Miami Heat will win championships, and Maroon 5 songs just won’t go away. I can’t say that my heart always feels filled by God. Sometimes I don’t feel like he’s there at all. But I do know this: The times I am happiest, the times I’m most at peace, are the times when I am seeking God or serving God. Maybe the reason there are so many self-help books with so many different theories for happiness is that this isn’t something you can do by yourself. Maybe this is something for which you need God. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I have to place my hope for happiness somewhere, God’s a good place for it. Celexa helps, too.

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