Monday, February 04, 2008

Am I Addicted to Happiness?

In today's society where people pop a pill for just about anything, depression and anxiety medications have been huge sellers for the pharmaceutical companies. Society has taken sorrow and grief and re-labeled them as a clinical illness that must be treated. The official book for diagnosing mental disorders, the DSM-IV, has these symptoms for depression: for two weeks or more you feel sad or empty, you display insomnia or sleep too much, you have difficulty concentrating and eating, you are generally lethargic and don't feel like doing anything.

I don't know about you, but I've had friends and relatives die, I've been broken up with, I've had best friends move away, I've had lots of stress at work, and so on. These are normal issues that normal people have had for thousands of years, and yet psychologists and society seem to push people to get over it quickly. It may take years to grieve a lost parent or child, and yet there is a sense of making people feel like they're stuck in the past for doing so. "Move on, marry again, get back to normal!"

In fact, there are some who claim that if you're not constantly in the pursuit of happiness, there's something wrong with you! Self-help books and motivational speakers were all the rage not too long ago. "Be happy! Go fulfill your dreams! You can be a star! You can have what YOU want now!" Self-confidence, self-help, self-taught, Do-It-Yourself. Turn that frown upside-down, it's time for personal achievement and fun!

Because most people in developed nations have few real life-threatening worries (i.e. food and water shortages, homelessness, joblessness, poverty) and yet have much free time and enough money and resources, they feel that the pursuit of happiness is the most important thing to accomplish in life. Although some go overboard trying to find the next high with drugs, alcohol, loose sex and debauchery of all kinds, the pursuit of worldly happiness doesn't stop with reckless behavior. It can be seen in very normal material activities, from buying things to having constant communication with friends and family to feeling accepted amongst peers. We all want to get bigger and better homes, cars, electronics, clothes, etc. We want instant communication or we constantly travel near and far so we can always be around friends and family. We try to blend in, yet stand out with our clothes and actions. Doing these things helps us feel more secure and happy temporarily, but they rarely fill the insatiable appetite for wanting more after the high of doing so has worn off. "I left my friends and I'm depressed, so I'll just travel to see them again next month. Why don't I call them now?" "This car is good, but I want a nicer one."

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing bad about enjoying the blessings we've been given. However, it is the expectation of "needing" to have these things that is the problem. Humans continue to feed their various addictions, even if they seem perfectly normal to the rest of society. And yet, like most addictions, they are unhealthy and damaging. People expect to be happy and want to be constantly entertained. Something must be wrong if not. What's wrong is that their quest for happiness masks a giant hole in their innermost being, and nothing physical can fill that hole.

In society's constant pursuit for happiness, it is depressing that the way most are living today is a way of complete covetousness. There exists a fine line between the principles of Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, where one enjoys and is content with the fruits of their labor and God's blessings, and an attitude of selfishness and covetousness. I always believed covetousness centered around directly wanting what someone else had. However, it really centers around pleasing the self with anything the self desires. It is raw carnality. As rich as America is, its citizens have all this time to desire all these wonderful goods and services we have available. So many people get anxious or depressed when they can't have what they want. Some work very hard to overcome their shortcomings in order to get more for themselves. Others might pop a pill, have another drink, or vent to friends in order to let off steam when we can't have what we want.

Let me tie this back in with the first paragraph or two about sadness... So many today are in such a pursuit of happiness that they do everything in their power to kick guilt, sorrow, meekness, humility and grief to the curb. I always got confused when Christ or Paul or others tell us to be sad and to humble ourselves. Yet I was taught by this world to try and be happy! In the Beatitudes, God states that only the lowly and meek in heart and spirit would enter His Kingdom. But why does God want us to feel bad some of the time and not good all the time? Won't His Kingdom be filled with joy?

The answer to the last question is, of course, yes. But we endure and grow through difficult times in order to build character. As it turns out, sadness, shame and pain are powerful tools. Humility is too, as most of you know. When friends and family have passed away, I am that much more aware of what is truly important because I have lost something that is incredibly important. When I've had friends move away or been broken up with, I am that much more reflective of what that person meant to me. When I sinned against someone and lost a friend, I see where my way gained nothing. I've gained valuable perspective going through these trials.

Instead of trying to cover up the pain (and rather than wallowing in self-pity, on the other extreme), we can learn valuable lessons about just what kind of person we really are. We can take time to see whether our choices and decisions have led us up to this current state of grief and difficulty, then steer our future actions in a better direction. When we lose someone we love, do we now take the time to recognize who is important among the living and show them so? I remember going to a funeral where the individual died suddenly, and everyone there was inconsolable. However, I've also been to a funeral where everyone spent much quality time with the individual in her last few months, and her radiance left us all smiling even after she was gone. We made time for one another and it showed!

God tells us there will be trials. Pain exists because it is friction against God's perfect way. Therefore, if you feel pain, you should examine if it is something you -or others, or this world's sinful ways - have caused. Then you can take steps to making sure you eradicate those tendencies in your own life. One thing that can make any trial easier is to look for the lessons to be learned by it. There is always something.

It is similar to physical pain. I freak out when I'm hurting and don't know its source. "Is it appendicitis? Do I have cancer? Do I have an alien about to pop out of my belly?!?" And yet with mental, emotional and spiritual pain, rather than find all the sources, we further damage and harden our minds against growth by ignoring the cause.

Christ said to count it all joy when various trials fall on us. God is showing that He cares for us because of the valuable lessons and growth we are being led to. He said that we should take punishment patiently, even when we don't deserve it. I remember the story about how the apostles all rejoiced after being beaten for Christ's sake in Acts 5:41. They were able to determine that they were acting in accordance with God's will for them and saw that their punishment furthered the Work of God! In this case, they had a clear conscience.

And that's what grief and sorrow can teach us if we heed the lesson. There will always be pain in Satan's sinful world. But there is pain caused that we are responsible for by our own sins, and there is pain that stems from the sins of all others on this planet. Both reverberate off of everything in their path slowly destroying this physical world. However, we can learn and grow from both. Seeing our own faults should make us feel shame and godly guilt, then lead us to repentance and good works. The grief and pain that the sins of this world inflicts upon us and others should help us to fervently pray for God to clean up this mess by sending His Son quickly to this world.

Ignoring and masking pain, guilt, sorrow and shame in favor of our own pleasure and happiness only makes it all worse. Heeding it will begin healing it. As Luke 6:21-23 states: "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall cut you off, and when they shall reproach you and shall cast out your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. For behold, for great is your reward in Heaven."

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