Has Pursuit of Happiness become an Idol?

‘As long as you are happy.’ That’s what people tell someone doing something questionable when they lack the courage to tell them the truth. It’s the new mantra, where happiness is the ultimate success and pursuing it is the purpose in life.

We live in a time where many Millennials and Gen Zs, even in church, are led by what they feel more than facts and truth. Their reality is measured by how good something feels rather than what is true about it. Everything is relative to the experiences around them. Happiness is the goal. Do you like it? Do you enjoy? Is it bothering/hurting anyone? Such are the questions they would ask to validate their peers’ actions.

This might be the reason behind ‘soft life, YOLO and the sponsor phenomena’ that we have witnessed in recent years. Young people pursuing happiness at whatever cost. Beauty, money, status, validation on social media are some of the things that have to be acquired for happiness to be achieved.

But as believers, are we called to happiness?

Well, God certainly wants us to be happy. But it might not be happiness the way we define it. What God has promised is joy, which is a long-lasting state of being and a fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit is; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

The problem with happiness

Being happy is an emotion, just like sadness or jealousy or fear. You might be happy about something, but you are not going to be continually happy forever. Happiness is great, but we can get happiness from a lot of things, even earthly things.

Joy, on the other hand, is a long-lasting state of being. Joy is promised by God and something we should strive towards. In Hebrews 12:2 it states, “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The object of joy is Jesus. The object of happiness is favorable temporary external factors.

“Happiness is based on what’s happening, but joy is based on what we believe.”

“Joy is that kind of happiness that does not depend on what happens.”

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Happiness becoming an idol

Pursuing happiness based on the desires of the flesh is what makes it an idol. Seeking happiness by putting money, status, relationships, family, success, education, comfort and self-fulfillment ahead of love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness is what raises happiness as an altar of worship.

Some of those things are to be desired and God surely blesses us with them, like money, homes, education and family. They are good things but when you have to get them to be fulfilled, when your happiness is pegged on them, when they are more important than your faith in Christ, then they become idols.

Some churches are not helping. They are preaching prosperity gospel that’s perpetuating the Happiness Cult. Preachers appeal to people’s feelings by exploiting their material/ sentimental needs in order to provoke emotional reactions. People go out thinking that things should always go their away, a feeling that’s good in the moment but never lasts because it’s not true/ biblical. The worst is that it can damage their faith.

Galatians 5:16-17. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever c you want.

A trouble less life?

Whether you set out to be happy at all costs or not, you will still face suffering in this life. You will be hurt physically and emotionally and your ‘happiness’ will not come to your rescue. That’s because we live in a fallen world and also, Jesus promised that some trouble is part of the salvation package.

Thus, a proper mindset towards suffering is required for one to lead a meaningful life. As much as Jesus says we will face trouble, he also promised to be with us through it all. We have a companion who went through worse and is walking with us everyday.

God has not called us to be happy. He has called us to be joyful in him despite our prevailing circumstances. To serve him through challenges, like Paul did. To deny ourselves for his sake. To sacrifice what we have for others. That will sometimes come at the cost of our happiness but the rewards are eternal and his joy is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

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