In Pursuit of Happiness
Recently, an interesting article caught my attention: "The Golden Triangle of Happiness" by William Verity and Yasmin Parry. The article attests that all over the world, people of all persuasions are in pursuit of happiness. It cites the latest findings of the Australian Wellbeing Index that involved more than sixty thousand participants. Conducted twice a year over the last fifteen years, the study concludes that besides genetics, there are three simple indicators of a happy life. Being part of an intimate relationship is the most vital component in contributing to a person's sense of wellbeing. Second, people are happiest when they are active, when they have a goal and a sense of purpose in life. And third, people are happiest when they have financial control. While money alone cannot make us happy, a lack of stability can make us miserable.
To phrase it simply, the three components that define happiness according to this study are relationship, meaning, and security. In a world that constantly tries to project power, pleasure, and more pleasure as indispensable to human happiness, this may well offer a refreshing counter-perspective. I wonder if it might also reaffirm the truth of the Christian gospel? For relationship, meaning, and security are the very things God offers us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The God revealed in the Bible is both personal and relational. We are created by this God, formed in God's likeness, and thus, there is an innate longing within us for relationship. To put it simply, we are most fulfilled when our relationships are good, and when there is a rupture or betrayal in our relationships, this sense of fulfillment is lacking. The greatest biblical commandment according to Jesus also pertains to this particular aspect of life: God's hope is that we might love our Maker with all of our hearts, minds, and souls, and that we might love our fellow neighbor as we love ourselves. The primary mission of Jesus Christ is to bring us further near to the love of God, to heal the corruption of our hearts, and to restore us to one another.
A family runs in the rain in Delhi, India. Photo by Ben May.
This takes us to the second component, which is our universal search for meaning and purpose in life. Throughout history, the origin and ultimate destiny of humanity have been explored and explained in various ways and with various disciplines. There are those who would define human beings as molecules in motion, products of accident, with no ultimate destiny beyond this life. Still others describe humanity itself as an illusion, a "maya." The Bible, conversely, describes humanity as created; fashioned in the likeness of a personal, infinite, and intelligent God. Surely, such a vision bestows human beings with a most significant sense of worth and value, while underscoring life's purpose as knowing and relating to God and fellow creatures. Consequently, the Christian sense of meaning and purpose in life flows from a relationship with our Creator. For it is only the one who creates who can define the true purpose of the thing created. Sadhu Sunder Singh, one of India's great saints, said that "in comparison with this big world, the human heart is only a small thing, but though the world is so large, it is utterly unable to satisfy this tiny heart." As water is restless until it reaches its level, so the soul has no peace until it rests in God.
The final element in the pursuit of happiness rests in a sense of security in life. This comes when we know that we can depend or rely on someone or something. Sadly enough, the reality is that we live in an increasingly insecure and sinful world. A short while ago, my country, India, was hit by the sadly horrifying news of a five year old raped by three grown men in the capital city. Again, headlines recently told of a mother who is alleged to have killed her own daughter, presumably for money. If there is no safety at home and in our neighborhoods, where do we look to for safety? The psalmist asks with transparency, "I look up to the hills, where does my help come from?" But then he goes on to confess, "My help comes from the Lord, the maker of the heavens and the earth." The Christian story posits that ultimate security can only be provided by one who is unchanging and powerful, one who remains the same yesterday, today, and forever—indeed, by one who is love and on whose love we can rely. Nothing in this world is permanent, and yet, the desire for security is a cry for a loving, unfailing face who remains, one who can hold our now and our tomorrow in able, trustworthy hands.
Jesus said, "I have come to gave you life and life in abundance." In and through the person of Jesus Christ, we find true and lasting relationships, discover meaning and purpose in life, and the gift of an incomparable security. As Chris Kang, a Buddhist convert, once shared with me, "After visiting many religious places and following almost all meditation formulas, I, at last realised, that it is not in a place or in a formula that one finds joy, happiness, and salvation but in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
Tejdor Tiewsoh is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.