It is perhaps the best known quote in American history, Jefferson's three inalienable rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness. After 243 years, the American “pursuit” of happiness seems to be in question. Are we happy? Are we pursuing the right things that can make us happy?
The 2018 World Happiness Report, released last week by the United Nations, ranked the United States at number 18 concluding that Americans have become less happy even while American wealth has expanded. According to U.S. News and World Report, the study stated, “The U.S. is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards.”
Commercials, sit-coms and stand-up comedy routines give us clues to what has gone wrong in our “pursuit.” According to many of these sources, happiness seems to be bound up with possessions: to have and to own something better than somebody else; our bodies: to be more beautiful, stronger, more attractive; sex: whether casual and illicit or friends with benefits; drugs (including alcohol): whatever promises release from our inhibitions and escape from our problems; social media and technology: virtual reality, virtual friends and a virtual life. With all their promises for happiness, they lead to disappointment and, too often, disaster.
There is another way. The Bible says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. … Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that He may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; desire peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:8-14) “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3).
No one is happy all the time. Jesus was characterized as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” But there is a joy that goes deeper than happiness; a joy that sustains us even in our difficulties. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3).
Churches are the happiest places on earth. I have visited hundreds of them in most states and many countries. Wherever I go, the gatherings of believers is characterized by joy, acceptance, encouragement, heartfelt hugs, laughter, smiles and love. The people of God have within them this unquenchable joy that sustains them, even when times are tough.
This joy is the result of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ. Our sins have been forgiven. Jesus has been raised from the dead. As Isaiah predicted, “And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10).