The pursuit of ...

January 26, 2009
By John Farley, Rabun Gap, GA

In examining the personal life of any one person, it is easy to see meandering trails towards glimpses of happiness. In all religions, happiness is thrust upon the highest of podiums as the ultimate goal for all. There are those who work sixty hours a week in order to obtain a weekend that will, with any luck, contain a couple hours of joy. Regardless of your relationship with the idea of happiness, all people are familiar with the idea. The pursuit of happiness is practically a requirement of United States citizens. It is not tangible, but it is priceless. It cannot be sold or consumed; America wages wars, however, in order to protect the opportunity for it. Finally, this happiness is always pursued, but it can never be permanently attained.

Am I happy? This is the most motivating, life-changing question that can be uttered into any ear and potentially cause complete panic, self-examination, or short-lived comfort. When people decide that they are not happy, many turn to religion for answers. In my personal experience, as a Christian, that has not been the most comforting of paths to follow. Even in religion, joy and happiness are labeled temporary. It is as if one were to arrive in the parking lot of heaven, only to find that all the spaces included a sign that read “fifteen minute parking only.” When I read the Bible as a child, it said something similar to “as with pain, joy is also fleeting.” I did not understand how the best and worst parts of life could occupy the same amount of time or how God could view pain and joy on the same level of importance. In my pyramid of emotion, joy sits on the top. Yet, it would seem that pain, in God’s view, is equal to joy. This concept is difficult for people, including me, to accept. It was at this point that I sought secular sources for answers.

Can anyone buy happiness and keep it? No, it cannot be done. In this new age of narcissism and materialism, people will try to achieve their happiness through the purchase of anything. Ultimately, everything that can be bought and bring joy will lose its luster. Still, many choose to work long hours, at a job they silently detest, in order to maintain a salary with which they believe they can purchase happiness. Go into any room in any office, school, or work place anywhere, and carefully examine every person in the room. Does he or she look happy? For the most part, the answer will be no. Many wealthy people in society realize that materials only bring brief moments of happiness, so they intentionally and constantly barricade themselves in a fortress of the latest stuff. It is a sad point in history when commercials and advertisements are shoved in our faces, and we are tricked into working overtime. Why do we work overtime? So we can get more money. Why do we want more money? Because the old stuff we bought has lost its luster, and we want the new stuff that, all of the commercials and advertisements say, will make us happy. Sadly, this charade accomplishes nothing. Joy cannot be purchased.

Viewing history books, especially United States history books, a pattern unfolds in which the United States has traded lives for the maintenance of joy. Since the Revolutionary War, every decision to go to war has been heavily fortified by the possibility that our freedoms might be taken from us. It is a clever gimmick used to rally support on the United States’ side. The reason this tactic is clever is because many Americans associate freedom with happiness. It is true. As a country we do not condone slavery. Do we? Slavery is not accepted because it directly causes pain. This clearly displays why Americans extensively protect freedom and how deeply all humans desire to possess happiness or at least desire the opportunity to be happy. So, rather than accept the truths and laws that follow happiness, we kill others. We cause the suffering of others to keep lives of luxury, and we still want more. It is as if there is a teeter-totter with America on one side and all others on the opposite end. The American side sits at the highest point possible, while the other side is almost buried in dirt with bricks of sorrow lying on top. Still, knowing the condition of the other side, the American side continues to deposit all of its bricks of death and sadness upon their opposition. My favorite song says “we are the cause of a world that’s gone wrong.” Most of the time, we prove that the lyrics of this song are true.

Happiness is defined on as “the quality or state of being happy” or “good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” The word “state” is in this definition. Its definition is “the condition of a person or thing, as with respect to circumstances or attributes.” Therefore, happiness is a state of being. It is something that changes from instant to instant. Based purely on the definition of these two words, happiness is not permanent, and it is not meant to be permanent. This is one of the few times that I have seen religion and academics provide the same answer. There has to be a reason why something so good is so brief. I was compelled to ask “how could this be a truth of nature? Why is agony necessary?” The answer lies in everyday life.
Has anyone ever existed who never had a bad day, never frowned, nor ever expressed any feeling aside from joy? No, it does not happen. This is an unspoken rule of nature and a Christian law. The discontentment of humanity is the engaging part of humanity. If every person on the face of the earth was completely happy, absolutely all of the time, there would be no reason for novels, movies, or adventure. Problems are what make life exciting. They are the salt in what would be a bland world. Without problems, happiness would not even be called happiness. It would be called life. Without problems, happiness is not appreciated. Without problems, happiness is neglected. No one would be thankful for sunny days if it never rained. When people do not see their families for a year, it makes the week they get to see their families all the better. They would not appreciate day if night never came. No one would appreciate friends if they did not know loneliness. In the same way, no one would see beauty in joy if they did not see the repulsiveness of suffering. This is true of every aspect of life. Nothing can be fully appreciated until it is absent.
So what is happiness? It is those brief moments in our lives without worry, without work, and without pain. Happiness is when a husband thinks upon the small gap his wife has between her two front teeth and he feels his stomach as it rises and grows warm with affection. Why is it not eternal? It is brief because the suffering, the pain, and the worry of life make life valuable. The problems make the journey of life worth the trip. What should we do about it? Well, when I was younger, every night when I would pray, I would always end my prayer with “God please help me to be happy.” Now I say “thank you for what you have put before me, and thank you for all that you will.” I think we should all do that. We all should do our best to deal with what is set before us. If we do that, happiness is no longer pursued. It comes to us.

Works Cited

Tankian’ serj. “Honking Antelope.” By Serj Tankian Rec. 22 Oct. 2007 Elect The Dead. Serjical Strike/Reprise

"happiness." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 27 Aug. 2008.
"state." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 27 Aug. 2008.

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