Happiness is a state of being that society prizes above almost all else. The founders of our country felt so strongly about happiness that they included the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence as one of three basic rights all humans are endowed with. We have been given this right, but will we ever find happiness if we make it the focus of our pursuit?
Every day we make decisions that are largely based on what we think will make us the happiest. From decisions as small as what to eat for breakfast to as large as what to do after graduation, the expected happiness that will result from these decisions plays a tremendous role in our decision making process.
While it seems innocuous, and perhaps even obvious, to pick a job or a vacation destination based on what will result in the most happiness, research in the field of psychology has shown that happiness often times results from counterintuitive choices, and that our judgment and decision making process is subject to all sorts of biases.
When confronted with two options, people in countless psychology experiments have unwittingly chosen the option that diminished happiness. Psychological research seems to suggest that due to our flawed ideas about what will bring about happiness, we are often times unsuccessful at pursuing it.
Our society seems to be on a negative trajectory for pursuing happiness. A recent study conducted by UCLA researchers found that fame, previously ranked by teens as 15th out of 16 values, jumped up to the number one value held by teens in recent years. Other individualistic values such as financial success and popularity rose to the top of teens’ rankings as well. Unfortunately, the values that today’s teens strive for show signs of being ineffective for producing lasting happiness.
Research has found that the more we have, the more we need in order to sustain our level of happiness. Once someone has experienced the euphoria that goes along with enjoying a double-double animal style from In-N-Out, a simple cheeseburger from McDonalds fails to produce the level of happiness that it may have before experiencing that delicious In-N-Out burger. These psychological findings from the past twenty years or so merely provide empirical evidence for arguments dating back thousands of years.
Almost 3,000 years ago, Solomon reflected in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” In addition to being one of the wisest men to ever live, Solomon also accumulated tremendous wealth, fame and power in his lifetime. Despite possessing all of these things that are believed to bring about happiness, Solomon reflected that all of these things are meaningless and fail to produce lasting happiness or anything of eternal significance.
So if research in the field of psychology has shown that our natural inclinations leave us ill-equipped to find happiness, given our many judgment biases and the current shift in cultural values, and ancient writers have warned us that happiness will not ensue from chasing after what the world promises will bring happiness, then why are we still so focused on pursuing happiness in life?
Happiness is a pleasurable state to be in and is associated with all sorts of mental and physical benefits. The problem arises when happiness becomes our primary focus in life — our main pursuit.
John Wooden, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, has said, “I believe the greatest joy one can have is doing something for someone else without any thought of getting something in return.” Instead of living our lives focused internally on a pursuit of happiness that is destined to leave us wanting more, we could instead chose to live our lives in a pursuit of things that will truly matter and will result in lasting happiness.
So what did Solomon, the man who spent his life in a pursuit of knowledge, wealth, power and women ultimately conclude on the matter of happiness? “Fear God and keep his commandments.” Solomon looked for happiness in virtually every place imaginable on Earth, but was only able to find true happiness when he feared God and lived his life according to God’s commands. Joy is a happiness that is not dependent upon our circumstances, but instead is rooted in our hope and faith that we have a God in heaven who loves us. If we want to experience true and lasting joy in life, pursuing God and finding assurance in his promises is our only option.
Lindsay Baxter is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.