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Human Happiness

Are you a happy person? Everyone wants happiness. We all want to fulfil our physical, emotional, social and spiritually needs. The mathematician Blaise Pascal said:  
Everyone seeks happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
The issue is not whether you are currently searching for happiness, but whether you have found the source of this happiness and are currently living a happy life! There many places we are searching for happiness. Some look for it in sensual pleasure, others in accumulating things, and yet for others it is looking deep within ourselves. Perhaps the most obvious place we look for happiness is in other people. 


One of my favourite films is A Beautiful Mind. It tells the story of the mathematician John Nash who goes through a myriad of highs and lows from his time as a Mathematics student in graduate school at Princeton in the late 1940s to his Nobel Prize win for Economics in 1994. Nash is depicted as brilliant but somewhat arrogant and antisocial man, Nash preferred to spend his time with his thoughts, which were primarily of seeing mathematical formula associated with everyday occurrences, than with people. 

The most important person Nash has a connection was Alicia Larde, one of his students when he was teaching at MIT in the early 1950's. He and Alicia eventually marry. As time goes on, Nash lives more and more within himself which causes major problems in his life. But Alicia stands by her husband until he redeems him through winning the Nobel Prize. There is a moving scene towards the end of the movie. Nash is standing in front of the Nobel prize audience to make an acceptance speech. Here is what he says:
I've always believed in numbers, in equations, in logic and reason.But after a lifetime of such pursuits: I ask What truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me to the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional, and back. I have made the most important discovery of my career - the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found. I am only here tonight because of you. [looking at and speaking to Alicia]. You are the only reason I am. You are all my reasons. Thank you. 
It is a powerful emotional, intellectual and ‘spiritual’ moment that acknowledges that happiness in life is not so much a state of being it is relational. John Nash is saying that, as he comes to the end of his life, all his happiness in life is wrapped in the face of his wife who has stood with him through thick and thin. She has loved and forgiven him through all the ups and down. As he says she is all his reasons for living. He is saying that love explains everything in life. 

We should pause remember that Nash does not explain or justify his reasoning. That is deliberate because the film directors believe the point is one we all agree, not just from observing Nash’ life but our own. They are confident that al of us know intuitively that happiness in life is not found in the Self  but in the Other. It is found and expressed in a loving relationship with others. We are not enough for our happiness! 

The question is not so much whether that is the case, but why it should be the case! Why is happiness relational?  Most importantly how do we then find such happiness? If happiness is relational then we can only find it by giving ourselves to that which is worthy of our love and affection. . We cannot find happiness in relationships unless such relationships are able to provide that which we seek! 

Nash found happiness through a selfless wife. Not every one is so fortunate. Indeed, one of the things we are hear often is that you don’t need other people to be happy. People say that not because they believe we can generate our happiness autonomously. They are simply trying to protect themselves from the inevitable disappointment that looking to other people brings. So don’t lean too much on others.

The truth is that many people do not find the happiness they long for. No one illustrates this truth better than the Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde was a man of unlimited potential. His plays were popular and earned him lots of money.  Many say Oscar Wilde is “our most quotable writer” after Shakespeare.  Yet at the end of his life, he was broken, miserable and in prison. Here is what he wrote while in prison: 
I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand… I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age…Few men hold such a position in their own lifetime, and have it so acknowledged. It is usually discerned by the historian…long after the man has passed away.  With me it was different. I felt it myself, and made others feel it….The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a dandy, a man of fashion…I became the spendthrift of my own genius...Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation…perversity became my sphere of passion...I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop...I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility. 
Oscar Wilde, like everyone else found that when you get to the top of the pyramid of sin, there is simply nothing there.  In the end all our sensual pleasure does not lead to happiness!  He illustrates  a troubling truth. If human happiness is relational not many of us find  a person who we can truly say to at all times and in every situation “you are all my reasons”. 

The only person who can give us a lasting relationship that brings us happiness is one who is like us and yet above us. One we share the same likeness with and yet has an infinite capacity to satisfy us. We meet this person  in the pages of the Holy Bible. The most startling thing about the God of the Bible is that He is a person. He is not a force like in Stars Wars or some law of nature. The God of the Bible speaks, acts, reasons and relates to us. 

The United Arab Emirates announced a couple years ago that it had selected 60 “chief happiness and positivity officers” to travel abroad to study happiness and how to spread it. In February, it appointed its first minister of state for happiness, with a mandate to make the country and its population happier.  Many countries are making increasing happiness a top priority because the rise in income has not led to people becoming appear! So people think we need government sponsored happiness!

But the Bible says the happy life does not come from government sponsored initiatives. It is not something we do on our own because happiness is not an end in itself!  A truly happy life is an output of a life live in union with t TV his personal God. Happiness comes from Him nourishing us with himself. The supremely happy person is a life filled and shaped by God. To be happy God must be our ultimate pleasure.  As Charles Hodge says:
The soul of man has a capacity for happiness which nothing in the world can possibility fill. The animal is satisfied. Its capacity for happiness is here fully provided for. The soul of man has aspirations to which nothing in this life corresponds. It longs for fellowship with what is far above itself; what is boundless, and eternal.
God is the source from which all rivers of human happiness  flow. If we separate a person from God there is no relationship that can bring lasting happiness. So how do we find happiness in God? The answer is in Psalm 32:1-2: 
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 
The word “blessed” means “supremely happy”. The psalmist is saying that happiness is only found in a relationship with the God of the Bible, the LORD. The problem is that in order to have this happiness with God we have to be without sin. God wants to have a relationship with us but our sin is in the way. The Bible puts it like this in the prophecy of Isaiah 59:1-12:  
Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;  but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
In order for us to have this relational happiness we long for we have to be forgiven by God. We have all rebelled against God. We no longer put him first place in our lives. In the words of Psalm 32, we need to have our sin or inquiry “covered”. God needs to somehow make it possible for our iniquity not to count against us. But God cannot simply overlook our sin against Him and each other it will compromise his justice. So how does God forgives us and give us  this supremely happy life while remaining just? He does this through Jesus of Nazareth. 

One of my favourite actors is the late Robin Williams. I think one of his best performances is the movie Jack, where he stars as a boy who suffers from unusual aging disorder. The disorder means that Jack ages him four times faster than a normal human being. As a result he starts school for the first time looking 40 yrs old. There is a fascinating scene towards the end of the film, where Jack looking like a 70-year old at the age of 18 years old, arrives at his graduation ceremony and is given the honour of delivering the end of year student speech. Here is a what Jack says: 
I don't have very much time, so I'll make it quick. Like my life. You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future.  We start to worry , thinking, "What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?" But I say to you, "Hey, look at me!" Please, don't worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.  And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day... make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did. 
Shortly after this Jack dies, having supposedly lived a “spectacular life”. The advice from Hollywood is that happiness is in the end is a mere wish we may not have. So rather than look to others for happiness, just try and make your life spectacular! But how much more spectacular can our lives be? As Jack himself says, “life is fleeting”. In the end we all must die – so to have lasting happiness we need a Companion who can hold our hand beyond the grave. Someone who is the embodiment of happiness!

The psalmist here tells us that having a happy life is ultimately about having a perfectly righteous or forgiven life. In other words happiness and forgiven living is one and the same thing! To be happy is to be in a state of perfection before God with no sin counting against you. 

We cannot achieve forgiveness of sin on our own. But the good news of Jesus is that God has come in Jesus to offer us this forgiveness by suffering our punishment on the cross for our sin, transgression and iniquity. The Bible says, Jesus “came in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” [1 John 3:5]. Jesus has come to make us perfect before God through His death  on the cross for our sins. Therefore all who repent of their sin and surrender their life to Jesus are now forgiven and have relational joy in God! 

This does not mean all your problems go away, but it does mean that in Jesus you are supremely blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). All who are in Jesus have a happy life because Jesus the fountain of happiness lives within them. So there is no need to look for happiness anywhere else. Whatever is going on in our life, we can rest in perfect righteous life in Jesus. We can rest  in the comfort of all that He has achieved for us. As Horatius Bonar says:  
Enter into the Joy of “Finished”.  He did it all when he made peace by the blood of his cross. It is finished! His doing is so complete that it has left nothing for us to do. We have but to enter into the joy of knowing that all is done!  

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2020

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