Where Does Happiness Come From?

Hello all. I took last week off to rest my brain as I felt like I needed to fill myself and not pour out for the day. As C.S. Lewis used to say “All things in moderation, including moderation”. Anyways, I have been pondering happiness and joy lately and I thought I would spend some time writing down my thoughts on where I believe these things come from, and some of the ways that our thinking can go wrong in regards to finding and maintaining a joyous attitude.

I want to start with a bit of a grizzly scenario.

Lets say that you find yourself alone and freezing to death, and you are becoming increasingly convinced that your demise is steadily approaching. How would you feel? I know it’s a dumb question, we would all feel pretty awful about the whole situation. Hopelessness is saddening, pain is never fun, and being alone while feeling hopeless and in pain only piles on more misery.

Now, lets say that the situation changed. Someone comes to you and gives you a jacket that was of such high quality that your body was warmed and your life was saved. How would you feel then?  I dare say that you would probably feel quite happy. And the jacket had allot to do with that.

A jacket, when you are cold, makes you happy.

Now, if this statement is true, what could be said of ten jackets? Would ten jackets make you ten times happier? Would a hundred jackets make you a hundred times happier? Would a thousand jackets make you a thousand times happier?

Mextures

No. It will not.

Happiness is not about having an overabundance of one thing. Studies have proven that, in fact, an overabundance of anything is almost always harmful.If you’ve read the recent reports about people “binge watching” netflix, you will find that this type of behavior actually causes depression. A well crafted show is a good thing. But binge-ing on a good thing is destructive and will actually bring about the opposite of what you are seeking. Happiness and genuine joy come, not from having more and more and more of a good thing, but from receiving just enough of the right thing.

We know this. Deep down inside, we all know this.

This fact, however, does not keep us from trying to acquire a whole bunch of the same thing. A good meal brings us joy, but too much of that meal will leave us miserable, overweight, with low self-esteem and will eventually contribute to an early death. Studies have also recently found that running as exercise is healthy in moderation. But in fact, people who run every day for more than 45 minutes have the same death rates as those who do not run at all.

You are happy when your needs are met, and become saddened when you live in too much abundance and excess. That drive that is inside of you for more and more is a clue that your other parts do not have what they need… namely, your soul.

Your soul has an insatiable desire for more. Theologian Hans Walter Wolff wrote a book called “Anthropology of the Old Testament” and in that book there is a chapter about the “nephesh”, the Hebrew word for “Soul”. In this chapter he repeatedly refers to nephesh as “The needy man”. Wolff uses dozens and dozens of passages of scripture to show us just how needy the soul is. It has a constant desire for more and more, but unless it is fed exactly what it needs, it is never filled.

Thomas Aquinas wrote:

“We are limited in every way but one: we have unlimited desire, unlimited longing”.

When the makers of Netflix added the “autoplay” feature last year, causing shows to play continuously, one after the other, they knew exactly what they were doing. They had stumbled upon the same thing that made Youtube so popular… one more videoAnd Facebook… one more scroll down. And the snooze button… one more quick snooze. But none of it ever gives us what we are looking for… in fact, it takes away what we want. We have all lost precious time because of our insatiable desire for “just one more”.

“Simplicity is freedom, duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear., as Richard Foster wrote.  The discipline of simplicity is an important one. I believe it was meant to remind us of these simple facts that we can readily observe, but rarely notice, every single day. Jesus said “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). I don’t think that we really believe this anymore. It is so ingrained in all of us to literally judge a persons life by the abundance of their possessions… which is why we tend to despise the poor and homeless. This is also the viewpoint of those who would abort a mentally handicapped baby, because we believe that our lives consist of our possessions, and a fully functioning mind is considered among the commodities of a developed society. But Jesus tells us that our possessions, wether it be money, intelligence, willpower, or marketable skills, do not determine a life.

Our request to God should be:
Not for more intelligence, but the simple wisdom to make the decisions that we currently need to make.
Not for more money, but the providence to meet the current need.
Not for more time, but the diligence to live what time we do have to the fullest.
Not for more friends, but the love, compassion, and empathy to be the best possible companion to the few that we have.
Not for more, but for better and more meaningful: moments/relationships/conversations/meals/experiences/marriages/work/etc…

Feed your soul what it needs first, and let the body and mind follow that. When you find yourself wanting more more more… stop and ask yourself where that is coming from. Ask yourself if more has ever really satisfied. Observe all the ways in which more has been destructive in your life and the lives of those around you. And reject the idea that more of this or that will really satisfy.

Ask God for what he calls “Our daily bread”. It is not a lifetime supply. It is right here. Right now. It is all you need.

More on this next week.

Advertisements

Lets Talk about Your Soul-Crushing Calendar.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.29.44 AM

Every single Sunday morning I ask countless people the american greeting question: “Hey, how are things?”. And ninety nine point nine percent of the time I receive an answer similar to “Man, things are so busy!”. Everyone is so busy. When you look into the eyes of other people you can see the glazed over look of a life that is filled with wall to wall obstacles, appointments and meetings. So many hurdles to wade through from the moment the feet hit the floor until the head finally hits the pillow in exhaustion. Yet we talk about how busy we are with our chests pushed out, as if we were waiting for the medal of american respect to be pinned to our chests because, yes… we are so very busy.

A relative of mine works for a ministry where there are weekly meetings that he has secretly dubbed “busy time”. One by one each person at the table takes their turn spinning tales of busy-ness. Each one greater than the last until they all can smile and affirm together that, yes, they are the busiest people they know.

On the other hand I have far too many conversations after Sunday worship gatherings that are filled with statements like “I just don’t feel close to God” or “I don’t have time to read and study, to meditate and exercise and grow”.

We always seem to have time for everyone else’s needs, but never for our own. We have time to help everyone else build what they want to build, but never time to build ourselves into what we want and need to become.

I have a small phrase that I want to give you. I think it will be a gift to you. And I think this little phrase can change your life. Are you ready? Here we go:

Your calendar is not about what you need to get done, it is about the kind of person that you want to be.

Your calendar should represent the you of your dreams. When I hear the laments of people who are unhappy with who they are right now, the state of their spiritual lives, the mass of chaos that has become their soul, I don’t need to wonder what their calendar for the last 6 months looked like. I already know.

They have been pouring themselves out. For everyone. For friends and family and bosses and co-workers, and even for God. The color coded blocks that pepper their ical like shotgun blasts represent a thousand little pieces of their heart and soul that they are giving away to others. Sometimes out of love, sometimes out of obligation, and sometimes out of fear.

And the blank spaces in their calendar represent the times that, if nothing else comes up, just might be times when they can refill their souls that have been running on fumes for months, if not years. When did it become okay, and even a badge of honor, to wear exhaustion around necks? When did it become acceptable to give the reigns of your life over to the tyranny of the whims of other people?

I made a decision at some point over the last couple of years to stop the madness. And it all started with a question:

What kind of person do you want to be in six months?

And let me follow that up with another question:

Does your calendar represent a movement towards becoming that person?

If not, you need to delete it and start over.

You see, your life shouldn’t be found in the blank spaces. Your personal growth and health should be first and foremost laid out in the boldest colors. And they should be locked in and immoveable.

Open your calendar today and ask yourself a couple of questions:

Do you want a better prayer life? Yes? Then show me exactly where on your calendar you have designated time for prayer, for reading books on prayer, for praying with others.

Do you want to have a deeper understanding of theology and spirituality? Show me where on your calendar you have designated times for reading, for meeting with your pastor or elders, or for taking classes on those particular subjects.

Do you want to have a better marriage? A deeper and more active sex life? A more intimate relationship with your spouse? So when were you planning on pursuing them? If you are just waiting for things to happen, you are forgetting that you are already struggling to find time for yourself and your God… weren’t those things just supposed to “happen” as well?

How about rest? Is vacation an afterthought? Are you putting money away every week in order to go to the mountains or the ocean and fill yourself up? Or are you just hoping that you will stumble into some extra days off and then struggle to stressfully scrape up some cash to do so? You don’t really believe that you will come back filled up when you stressed over money the entire time, do you?

Six months from now you will be someone else. And it’s your choice who that person will be.

If you don’t tell your time how it will be spent, then other people will. I promise you. Do you know why? Because you have no reason to say no. Your calendar is wide open, and your achilles heal is exposed. But your defense mechanism is the simple phrase: “I’m sorry, my calendar is booked at that time”.

One thing that I have noticed is that no one ever questions the calendar. If you tell them “I will be playing candyland with my daughter”, they will become irritated at your lack of commitment to whatever it is that they deem important. BUT, if your reply is “The Calendar is booked”  then there is no questions. The calendar is gospel to them, because they are busy, and busyness is honorable. Candyland is not.

So may your calendar reflect your sanctification. Your movement towards a life that reflects Jesus. The desires of your heart to live a meaningful life. To learn, to love, to grow, and to build a life that is filled with grace and peace.

Your calendar is not a reflection of what you need to get done. It is a well lit path towards kind of person that you will become. So fill ‘er up.

There is no Correlation Between Task and Depth.

 

A couple of months ago I stumbled across a picture that was quite moving. The picture was slightly blurry and the angle was terrible, but the emotion contained in it was quite heavy.

There was an elderly man sitting in a booth of an In’n’Out burger. He was alone. In the aisle between him and the empty bench across from him was his walker and he was eating a simple meal, burger, fries, soft drink. On the table between him and the empty bench was a picture. It was sepia colored, and framed in wood and glass. A picture of two lovers in their mid thirties, smiling and posing for the photograph.

The picture of the elderly man eating with a framed photograph was snapped and posted to social media by someone who had apparently seen the man there frequently with a woman, his wife, at that very booth. They ate there regularly and she had passed away a few days earlier.  And now the man carried on the traditions and daily routines that he had shared with his lifelong lover, only now he did it alone. With only her picture and his memories.

All of this begs me to ask questions about the people sitting around him. Normal resting faces, eating a meal with friends, family, or alone. Completely unaware of the sacred moment that was happening in that booth just a few feet away. A man. Remembering. Loving. Missing. Mourning.

I would argue that several times every day scenes like this play out all around us and we, wrapped up in thoughts far away from the present moment, are completely oblivious to the sacred souls and their loss and desperation.

Most of us never imagine that there could ever come a day when something that was a simple routine today: changing a diaper, sharing a meal, pushing a swing, hearing a familiar voice on the other end of a the phone, could tomorrow be something that they would give anything just to experience one last time.

The task might be menial, even arduous, but the depth and weight and sacredness of that moment is all contained in the context of that moment. Is it done in the service one someone that you love? Then it is sacred. It is not small. There will come a day where will matter to you far more than it does now.

I know of a man who cleans port-a-potties for a living, and he loves his job. He loves using the equipment and driving the truck. He also loves the pay and benefits. And he talks about how he is waging a war against disease and illness that people, especially children, are susceptible to. And, in his words, “there comes a moment in your life where the most important thing to you in that moment is finding a port-a-potty, and I give that to you, me!”.
On the flip side I have met people who work at IBM who are miserable. They hate their jobs.

You see, there is no correlation between task and depth. There is only context, thankfulness, and a firm understanding that life is most fully lived moment by moment. When you become aware that life is fleeting, that, as the prophets used to say : “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…” (Isaiah 40) Then you start to realize that even though the grass is fading, there are flowers on it from time to time. And they are beautiful and they are wild and they are fleeting! 

So today, pay attention to what is going on around you. Notice that there are sacred moments. They are happening in the lives of others who are learning to adjust to new seasons of life, either through great loss or great blessings. They are happening to you, right now, because even though you look forward to and even long for future days, there will come a day when you will remember and even long for this day.  A day when you had life, love, health, friends, faith, hope

And you will wish you had realize the sacredness of this very moment.

IMG_0098