The pursuit of happiness


By Dr. Hal Brady

Some years back an English author penned an essay on the illusion of happiness. He began the essay with the story of a young man who was facing a difficult and momentous decision. The boy asked, “Don’t I have the right to happiness?”' The author responded, “No, you don’t. And, if finding happiness is the chief pursuit of your life, you will never find it.”

Many in our time are desperately searching for happiness, and that’s certainly not a bad goal. The problem, however, is that happiness doesn’t come by searching for it. Happiness always comes as a by-product of something else. Happiness has been labelled a serendipity – “an agreeable thing not sought for; a benefit found in the pursuit of something else.” 

Strange as it sounds, happiness comes by forgetting about it. One day a little girl asked her mother, “What can I do?” The mother replied, “Anything you like, my dear.” The little girl responded, “But I'm tired of doing that.” What that little girl discovered has been the common experience of humankind. “The more you do just what you want to do, the less you enjoy doing it.”

I repeat, happiness is a by-product of something else. 

First, happiness is a by-product of a life of meaning! The late Dr. Frank Harrington, Presbyterian minister, told about a lady who had everything in terms of wealth. She went into a hotel and rented a room on the top floor. Just prior to jumping out the window, she wrote a note. The note said, “I'm tired of clapping with one hand.” Isn’t that a sad way to express it? I’m talking about a lack of meaning in one’s life. “I'm tired of clapping with one hand.” Not much sound there.

The truth is, it is not written that having pleasure, wealth and “the plums of choice” are going to guarantee happiness and contentment in life. As a matter of fact, some of the most miserable people I know have plenty of things, but they have lost out in the other areas of life – the most important areas. Someone once said, “Put out into the deep.” I think that means we have to stop where we are and seriously focus on the meaning of life. That bumper sticker I saw the other day has it right. It said, “Happiness is not an outside, but an inside job.”

Second, happiness is a by-product of a life of service! There’s an old Hindu proverb that reads, “Help thy brother’s boat across, and lo thine own has reached the shore.” That’s the philosophy of happiness. And Jesus was also relating happiness to service when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” St. Francis of Assisi was a wealthy person. Yet he gave it all away when he became a Christian – when he started caring for others. Remember he cared for the prisoners, the poor, the slaves and the ill. It’s no secret that he was called “the Jolly priest.” Why? Because he was involved in serving others. I lost my father in 1977. We buried him on Saturday. I was starting a preaching mission the next night. I really didn't want to go and thought seriously about canceling out. But I couldn’t because I didn’t want to let the minister down who had invited me. I went on and I can honestly say that even in the midst of that sadness, while trying to preach to that congregation, God brought a new joy to my heart in that service rendered.

Third, happiness is a by-product of right relationships! The truly happy people are those who enjoy their relationships with other people. On the other hand, the unhappy folks are those whose “me first” attitude produces what I call “happiness barriers.” These happiness barriers include but are not limited to self-pity, resentment, greed, fear, and others. As someone observed, “You never find happiness when your favorite charity is yourself.”

Finally, happiness is a by-product of a vital faith. A man named Michael Curry was working in the slums of a major city. He asked the question, while talking about the slaves of long ago, “Why didn't slaves go crazy? They didn't have doctors and social workers and all that. Why didn't they go crazy?” Then he said, “Oh, I know why they didn't go crazy. It's because of their singing of those spirituals. Those spirituals lifted them up, took their tears away and made them know that they were children of God.”

We will never find happiness by searching for it. It is a by-product of something else.

Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.