The Secret of Happiness V

If this five-part series on The Secret of Happiness has taught me anything, it is that this topic is well nigh inexhaustible! So many and varied thoughts about what exactly The Secret of Happiness is. Resources available on the World Wide Web include writings from a multitude (both living and dead) and it would be difficult to digest them here.

Though much more could be explored, I’ve decided it’s time to wrap up this discussion. I’ll do so by contrasting the lives of two historical figures.

seghersjob

If anyone had reason to be unhappy, surely it was Job. The Book of Job presents his story by posing a penetrating and age-old question:  if God is a God of love and mercy, why do righteous men suffer? (You’ll want to read the book yourself, but I’ll summarize here.)

The book begins with God’s praise for Job (1:1, NASB) − he’s “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Seven verses later, God adds there’s “no one like him on the earth.” High marks from the Creator, wouldn’t you agree?

But Satan scolds God:  Job wouldn’t be so righteous if he suffered loss; he’s only righteous because he’s comfortable, wealthy and enjoys every imaginable advantage. So God allows Satan to destroy Job’s comfort, wealth and advantages. Eventually, God permits Satan to inflict gross bodily pain − Job gets boils from head to toe.

Job’s friends commiserate with his distress and a dialogue ensues. The men opine about Job’s suffering; he responds. Notwithstanding God’s appraisal that Job is “blameless,” his friends insist Job’s suffering is due to sin in his life.

A fourth friend ultimately enlightens the trio of “friends,” maintaining God has permitted Job’s suffering as a means for purification, a stripping away of any vestige of self-righteousness, compelling Job to trust only God and God alone.

Through it all, Job remains steadfast, saying in 19:25 (NASB), “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He anticipates certain future vindication, even if it must come after his death. In 23:10b (NASB) Job declares, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Hearkening back to the Viktor Frankl model, Job found meaning in his suffering. Happiness was never the focus.

ge_nikolai_9_court_of_king_solomon_1854Compare Job’s experiences to the life of Solomon. Again, if anyone has ever lead a charmed (and presumably happy) life, wouldn’t it be Solomon? Son of a king, then king himself, Solomon had power, wealth and great wisdom. He also had the vast pleasures of the world at his disposal. Unlike Job, Solomon didn’t lose everything (or anything); he engaged a rich life of excess and increase.

In the book attributed to his authorship (Ecclesiastes), Solomon comments on the futility of human wisdom, pleasure and wealth, and materialism, concluding in 2:17 (NASB), “I hated life … because everything is futility and striving after wind.” He goes on in 3:22 (NASB) to assert, “… nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities …”

These seemingly contradictory statements come from a man, an ancient King of Israel, who realized life (in spite of its futility) is a gift from God that should be enjoyed to the fullest. He regards labor (work) as good and commends the pleasures of eating and drinking, but he also reminds us that life is fleeting. Read the book of Ecclesiastes to grasp both Solomon’s despair and his sagacity.

ASIDE  At the end of the book, 12:12 (RSV), I note Solomon warns his son:  “Of making many books there is not end, and much study is weariness of the flesh.” I guess I should take note of what the wise man says, huh?

Given Solomon’s wisdom, I think Ecclesiastes represents the best guide I’ve found for uncovering The Secret of Happiness. Here’s a distillation of Solomon’s wisdom-writing in Ecclesiastes:

    1. God is sovereign.
    2. Mankind is fallen.
    3. Death is certain and unavoidable … but, in the meantime,
    4. You’re alive and Life is a blessing to enjoy.

If there were a secret formula to ensure happiness, people would gladly pay to secure it. I wonder how many will take Solomon’s conclusions (free) to heart?

Advertisements

The Secret of Happiness IV

More about the secret of happiness, you ask? Transitioning this series of posts from SpongeBob Smiley’s magic formula for happiness … to happiness as something one must choose and cultivate … to Dr. Viktor Frankl’s view of happiness as a fanciful American phenomenon, one might imagine these three posts cover the spectrum reasonably well … but one might be wrong! Too much data has yet to be considered!

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to oldies but goodies night.

To start, here’s a musical number specifically addressed to the gents. Permit me to introduce Jimmy Soul whose 1963 Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping hit was titled If You Wanna Be Happy. Soul had a relatively short career, the next best thing to a one-hit-wonder − he was a two-hit wonder. Here are the lyrics in case you want to sing along.

For men who’ve already jumped the shark by marrying beautiful women … well, I suppose there might be other perks, but − if Jimmy Soul’s song is to be believed − don’t count on happiness being within reach.

Perhaps those guys may find solace in Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 Song of the Year / Record of the Year / number one pop hit, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Here are more lyrics for your sing-along pleasure.

McFerrin’s hit song became popular across the globe, clearly due to its catchy, carefree tune, but also because its positive message resonated.

Now, here’s a change of pace (from my oldies theme). This song from the IMPACT Repertory Theater delivers a delightfully upbeat tune as well as being performed by energetic young people who definitely enjoy their music and presentation.

Doesn’t this video make you want to get up and dance?!

Finally, let’s return once more to the oldies. What oldies musical retrospective would be complete without a nod at Del Shannon? This version of Happiness wasn’t a runaway hit (get it? Runaway?) for Shannon, but the song still made it as cut number three on the Little Town Flirt album.

There are numerous other oldies that might have been featured in this post. I passed on The BeatlesHappiness Is A Warm Gun, not so much because of the drug references but primarily because guns and happiness don’t represent an acceptable duo in today’s politically correct culture.

Happiness Loves Company (Red Hot Chili Peppers) is too new. Lee Ann Womack’s song Happiness − a good song, but again, not an oldie. My Happiness by Connie Francis qualifies as an oldie, but I’m not exactly a fan of her music. There were others:  Roberta Flack’s Happiness, the Happiness cut from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and many more. (Visit the iTunes store to gauge the abundance of tunes about happiness.)

Set to music, happiness frequently consorts with love. There’s sufficient justification, in my view, for that coupling. Consider the words of Jesus in John 15:11-13 (ERV):  I have told you these things so that you can have the true happiness that I have. I want you to be completely happy. This is what I command you: Love each other as I have loved you. The greatest love people can show is to die for their friends.”

Being willing to die for one’s friends? That kind of conscious, unconditional love − as Jesus taught in word and deed − is surely the path to true happiness.

The Secret of Happiness III

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl once said:  “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” His memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, was chosen by a survey of readers in 1991 as one of the ten most influential books in America. (Many readers considered the book “life-changing.”) Dr. Frankl suggested the concept of happiness is an illusory construct unique to our American culture.

viktorfrankl_searchformeaning

Frankl survived the Holocaust. He endured extreme hardship and suffering, including time spent in a Nazi concentration camp (where most of his family perished). Frankl came to believe that even in the midst of suffering, there is purpose. The search for meaning and purpose drives us; happiness is simply a byproduct of choosing to cope and find meaning in our suffering. Frankl posited:  A man “who knows the why for his existence … will be able to bear almost any how.”

That quote might lead a person to think Dr. Frankl was a religious man. Wikipedia indicates he was Jewish, not just by birth but religious affiliation. An interesting 1995 article by Matthew Scully in the publication FirstThings offers additional details about Dr. Frankl’s religious views.

Reflecting on Frankl’s insights, I can’t help but recall James 1:2-3 (NASB) which says:  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” In the face of trials, a person has the choice to look at those trials and rejoice (considering or counting it as joy). Whatever the trial, the testing of our faith produces endurance!

Earlier, I mentioned that Frankl considered happiness to be an American construct. I suspect he’s correct. Today more than ever before, people abandon marriages and jobs because they’re “unhappy.” Mothers, bemoaning that their lives are somehow “unfulfilled,” leave their children to the care of strangers and seek fulfillment elsewhere. The axiom for our 21st century American culture seems to be:  If you’re not happy, change your circumstances. (Implied, don’t worry about changing yourself.)

In one of my earlier posts, I pointed out people are generally more capable of elucidating what happiness is not, rather than what it actually is. This has something to do, in my view, with acknowledging that happiness is a moving target, often just out of reach. The internal dialogue may go something like this:  when thus-and-such happens, I’ll be happy. If I can earn this much money … overcome this obstacle … achieve a particular pinnacle, happiness will finally be within my grasp. We focus our entire lives on similar temporal goals and in doing so, we “thwart happiness” (as Frankl says) and sow discontent instead!

Frankl’s theory of logotherapy posits we need to view “suffering not as an obstacle to happiness but often the necessary means to it.” Sounds like he might have been reading the book of James. (Smart guy!)