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Where is Happiness Hiding?

10/24/2017 | 5 Minute Read | Author: Nate Carden

Happiness is found where you’d least expect it. This country of ours is determined to be happy; it’s in our blood and even written in our Declaration of Independence. The “pursuit of happiness” is our God-given right. Though we have pursued it with all our might, we are as far away from achieving happiness today as we’ve ever been.

My generation is no different, we want happiness and we think we have figured out the way to get it, yet somehow it eludes even us. We understand that money cannot buy happiness. Of course, we would like to have money, but to us, slaving away to get money you cannot enjoy is not worth it. We want to make an impact and have a life full of cool experiences. Our goal is to live life to the full. Its almost as if our forefathers began the 20th century thinking that wealth would bring satisfaction. When they didn’t find happiness in wealth they just passed the baton to their children. Their children then thought “hey, if wealth doesn’t satisfy, then maybe freedom from religious repression will bring happiness.” So they pursued pleasure and pleasure didn’t really satisfy either. Now our generation has the baton and we are racing full speed ahead. The problem is that the object of our pursuit is ever-changing. In the last century alone, it has moved from money to freedom to fame to meaning.. We are chasing after the wind.

I will be the first one to tell you that I am a product of both my culture and my generation. I drank the Kool-Aid and bought into the whole bit that our goal in life is to be happy. Almost instinctively, we humans follow the wisdom of the crowd and think “hey if everyone else is chasing after x then I probably should too.” And so I, along with the crowd, unconsciously believed that our generation had finally cracked the code; happiness must be found in a life of meaning. We then swallow the lie that our meaning is derived by how special or unique we are perceived by others as well as by ourselves.

Our uniqueness is played out nowadays in one of two ways: 1) in experiencing things that few people get to experienceor2) in contributing to the world in a way that nobody else can.

I first sought meaning through adventureand attending the Air Force Academy turned out to be the perfect way for me to rack up cool experiences. Over the course of my four years there, I got to fly in a glider plane, a T6, a T38, an F16, and an Alpha Jet (French fighter plane). I went through the free-fall skydiving program and got 5 solo jumps from 4500 ft. Every spring break trip, my friends and I went on some adventure: Hawaii, Rio de Janeiro, and the British Virgin Islands. I did summer programs out the wazoo, spending a month in Nice, France learning french; a month in Israel on a full country tour/military exchange; a month on the island of Crete “studying” at IIPES (one of the best summer programs on the planet!). And last but not least, I spent a semester of my senior year in southern France on an exchange with the French Air Force Academy.

Every adventure provided me with a sense of fulfillment and an assurance me that I was truly living. My list of adventures was always personal and never something to showcase to others as if to say “look what i’ve done.” Please bare with me if this article seems to portray the latter.

My first assignment after I graduated from the Air Force Academy was to study in Paris, France for two years. The Air Force paid for my school, a nice apartment downtown and gave me a salary on top of it all. Life was good and full of adventure! The adventure high, however, soon began to wear off. In my short life, I had been fortunate enough to do a lot of cool stuff and as an unwelcome consequence, my appetite for adventure had grown. I started finding it hard to be satisfied with any trip or program that didn’t measure up to a previous experience. During my last semester in Paris, I vividly remember sitting on my couch in an oversized apartment thinking “what am I missing? I mean, studying in Paris is pretty unique.”

The reason for my discontent, I decided, was that I was 23 years old and still in school. People my age were already out in the world doing great things and I had to sit in marketing classes and read about it. I wasn’t a kid anymore and gallivanting around the world just didn’t provide the same satisfaction that it once did. Maybe if I was able to start working then I could finally start contributing to the world. “Yes,” I thought, “then I would be happy.”

When I started working though, my life only got worse (at least the way I saw it). Instead of being unique, I was just another cog in a big ‘ole Air Force wheel! Worse still, I must have been a cog in the spare tire instead of the front tire because I definitely didn’t want to be living in Virginia at the time. Giving myself pep talks didn’t work too well. I would go back and forth in my mind “hey, this is a great job, I am technically in charge of 35 people. I have a secure job in an unstable economy. I make good money for my age and plus I get 30 days of vacation every year. I live in a house by the beach and drive a nice car.. I should be thankful.. I am thankful. It’s just… I don’t know.”

I was infected by the“When/Then Syndrome” though I didn’t know it at the time*. I just knew that someday and somehow my circumstances would line up with my desires and when that finally happened, then I would find fulfillment/satisfaction/happiness.. As we wait for that day, we demand an answer for the question “why can’t I be happy” and our minds are forced to find a culprit. “Oh, it’s because you don’t have that great job yet. That’s why you aren’t happy,” our minds tells us.

“What? You still aren’t happy? Well, if you were married then you’d be happy.” It goes on and on “when I take this trip,” “when I make more money,” “when I have this car or that watch…”

I began to see a trend. The people that have the “when” are not happy*. The problem with happiness is that it doesn’t last; we taste it and it is gone. It was an eerie moment for me when I came across a quote by OJ Simpson in a book about this topic. He said in a 1977 interview with people magazine

“I sit in my house in Buffalo and sometimes I get so lonely it’s unbelievable. Life has been so good to me. I got a great wife, good kids, money, my own health—and I’m lonely and bored. I often wondered why so many rich people commit suicide. Money sure isn’t a cure-all.”

OJ is now “bored out of his mind” sitting in prison! But it’s not just money that fails to bring happiness; fame can’t; meaning can’t; NO THING can bring happiness.Happiness is not determined by our circumstances. Happiness, or better yet,contentment is an attitude to be learned.

If, like the Rolling Stones, you “can’t get no satisfaction,” realize that happiness is developed within you, not found “somewhere out there.” Tune in next week to find out what contentment is and what it is not. P.S. Christians beware! We are not immune to the When/Then Syndrome. For us, it is just a spiritualized version of the disease. I have prayed “Lord, please just let me go on this trip to Israel..” “If I only get this trip to Crete..” “Ok Lord, thank you for Nice, Israel, Crete, and Southern France, now if only you will only allow me to go to Paris..” We think happiness is found in “Jesus + a good body” or “Jesus + a good job” and we do not realize that it is the “+” that gets us into trouble.

P.S.S. Is it any wonder why our country is broke? I guess companies have learned that we are slaves of happiness. They spend billions of dollars on advertisements for one main reason: to make us DIS-CONTENT.

*Source: I learned this truth largely through a message I heard by Chip Ingram. If you want to listen to it and get a peek into what I will touch on next week, I strongly urge you to do so. There are 3 messages in the series but I think his best message is “How to be content..Today.”