Our culture is obsessed with happiness and maybe rightly so. Can’t everyone use a little more happiness in their lives?
A quick search on Amazon displays thousands of titles which promise to help you find happiness, pursue happiness, promote happiness, and just generally be happier. Books are just the beginning though; there are more products, methods, programs, and a myriad of other things that promise to help you be happier quicker and faster than the person next door. With all of these resources, you would think we would be the happiest group of people the world has ever known. Unfortunately, we know this is not the case.
In the now wildly popular and frequently quoted TED talk totaling over 25 million views, Brene Brown in The Power of Vulnerability, makes a startling statement;
“We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.”
It should be noted that Brene Brown is a Ph.D and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and this statement comes as a result of extensive research, data, and personal experience. In other words, this is not to be brushed off or discredited as hyped up.
The big question though is; Why is that? Why are the current and upcoming generations trending this way? How, with an unparalleled amount of resources showing us how to be happy, are we seeing quite possibly the most unhappy generations ever?
In our home church a few weeks ago we took some time to read John 14 aloud and to just listen. Here Jesus says something powerful but it’s easy to skip if you don’t pay attention:
I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. – John 14 MSG
After we finished reading the chapter someone in the group said what we were all thinking, “Peace. I needed to hear that.”
Jesus is about to be given over to Roman guards, beaten, charged as a criminal, and hung on a cross. He just got through saying that he was leaving and was giving the Spirit to those who believe and then he says this. No mention of happiness here. Yet, wouldn’t it make sense if he did? Jesus could have turned to the disciples and say, “Hey, guys… be happy! It’s all going to work out.” I think all of us would have been OK with that but he doesn’t. Instead, he mentions being ‘well’, ‘whole’ and ‘peace’.
It seems Jesus’ concern was not happiness but wellness. Not happiness but wholeness. Not happiness but peace.
Peace is not like happiness. It’s not something you can create but something you step into – something done or given to you. You can’t muster up peace in the same way you can happiness. You also can’t make someone be at peace as you can make someone happy for a time.
The Dead End of Happiness
I believe the reason is because happiness is an emotion and unfortunately emotions are fleeting. You have experienced this over the course of a day or maybe even minutes. One minute you are happy and the next your happiness is sent deep into a downward spiral.
I believe feelings are good but just not ultimate and apparently Jesus felt the same. It’s not that happiness is bad or shouldn’t be pursued – it just that it isn’t the answer. Feelings, while experientially important are not existentially profound.
In fact, when we pursue happiness at all cost we short-circuit life. Life is not supposed to be all happiness but a full spectrum of emotions; happiness, sadness, anger, joy, confusion, and so on. Those aren’t things to be avoided but to sit in and ride out.
It would seem then that this peace Jesus talks about is what was really to be pursued – not an emotion. Jesus cared more deeply for us then to have us pursue something that could change at a moments notice. He offered a peace that would permeate our whole self and radiate out to others. His desire was to leave us with his peace – well and whole.
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