Rev. Christy Thomas: Happiness is a side effect, not life’s ultimate goal

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Listen in on this conversation I had with a friend from years past. His marriage had, to put it gently, not worked out. He bemoaned his fate saying, “I’m a loving man and all I want to do is make some woman happy.”

As I listened to him, I heard other voices saying things like: “God just wants you to be happy!” “I promise to make you happy.” “You make me happy.”

A question: Where can the phrase “ … all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” be found in the Bible? (Hint: Try Hezekiah 4:2).

A friend noted recently after a trip to a theme park, “Really, the people there didn’t look very happy.”

Why not? Because a life, or a part of life, devoted to the pursuit of happiness — or the pursuit of making someone else happy, or the pursuit of finding someone to make you happy — is doomed to failure.

Imagine that my job description reads “to make you happy.” In order for me to fulfill said description, I need to measure your happiness. Several times a day, I ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being miserable and 10 being ‘I’m in rapture!,’ how happy are you right now?”

You stop and measure your happiness temperature. Anything above a 7 passes, but we always aim for the perfect 10!

So far, so good. I’m responsible for your happiness, and you get to grade my work. If you are happy, then I am happy. It sounds so fair, noble and self-sacrificing.

Now suppose you get home one day, tension written all over you. An unreasonable boss, bad traffic, stomach upset, family problems, financial issues — whatever the combination of factors, days like this are common.

I greet you at the door with a hearty hug and say, “Time for a measurement, my little chickadee! Tell me what your happiness meter says!”

“I’m at a 2,” you snarl, just wanting to get free and go collapse someplace and shed the day.

Your announcement devastates me. Why? Because I want to succeed! Happiness is the ultimate goal in life, and I can’t be happy unless you are happy!

And if you are not happy …

Well, if my life centers on your happiness, then everything that brings unhappiness to you must become my problem. The next step is that I must fix all your problems for you.

In time, here is the result: I become responsible for you — and you become responsible for me. Why? Because your guilt level gets high when I’m not happy because you are not happy, but I can’t be happy unless you are happy, and although your reasons for unhappiness have nothing to do with me, they now have everything to do with me. Ultimately my happiness becomes your problem, just like your happiness has become my problem.

The phrase “God just wants you to be happy” has similar implications, because then God becomes responsible for my happiness. Does that it make OK to order God around as my servile Divine Butler, Santa in disguise, and place myself in the center of the universe? Many act that way.

Let’s go back to Hezekiah 4:2. Look it up. Right: It doesn’t exist, just as there is no biblical case for the pursuit of happiness as the goal of life. There’s much support for making holiness a central pursuit, or mercy, or justice, or generosity, or service, or faithfulness in task, but not happiness.

Could it be that the focus on happiness, especially trying to make others happy, including spouses, children, bosses or friends, actually makes us unhappy? That when we quit being responsible for others, we find we can support them more fully? That happiness is a byproduct of faithful living, not a goal?

Try it and see.

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or christy@krumumc.org.


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