The Declaration of Independence is supposed to grant all Americans the inalienable right to pursue happiness. A wise man once commented, “The pursuit of happiness is a most ridiculous phrase: If you pursue happiness you’ll never find it.”
Unfortunately human beings have rarely learned this truth, and many spend their days pursuing, but never finding, the happiness they think will come if only they can get or do more. Solomon tested this truth by deciding to do whatever he could to make himself happy. He said, “I decided to enjoy myself and find out what happiness is. But I found that this is useless, too. I got whatever I wanted and did whatever made me happy. But most of all, I enjoyed my work. Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work, and it was simply chasing the wind. Nothing on earth is worth the trouble.” Solomon found that living a life of self-indulgence was empty and unsatisfying, and that although he had tried his best to do what would make him happy, he was not successful.
What does bring happiness? The Bible speaks of how happy a man is who has the Lord for his God and trusts in Him, and the happiness that comes from finding wisdom. In addition, researchers who investigate what causes happiness have found an interesting common characteristic. William James explains, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Mark Twain observed, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”
So, since trying to be happy is useless, what we should be doing is, as William James and Mark Twain both agree, finding happiness by helping others. The more we forget ourselves and concentrate on the needs of others, the happier we should become.
Is there any support for this policy in the scriptures? Peter reminds his listeners in the book of Acts how Jesus went about doing good. Jesus always showed compassion for others. Matthew records that, “As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them.” And again, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Luke tells us, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
Jesus demonstrated by his actions that he thought of others rather than himself. The example of Jesus clearly shows us what we should be doing. Paul tells us that “Christ did not please himself.” Paul also counsels the Corinthians, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” The outcome of this type of selfless dedication is unexpected—a feeling of happiness. Cheering someone else brings us cheer.
So the key to happiness is to forget about working to get happy and to think how we can help others. Paul advises us to wear this attitude like clothing: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” When we cheer others by our compassion for them, we end up being happy without even trying.
The other side of the coin is described by George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not.” The people who have nothing to do but to think how they could be happier are the most miserable people on earth. They have not learned to forget themselves and think of the needs of others as Jesus did. They fit the expression, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”
God has given us the secret of true happiness. Put on compassion, and love, be thankful and do all we do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Solomon tells us, “Happy is he who is kind to the poor” and “happy is he who trusts in the LORD.” May we find the true happiness that comes from trust in our God and filling our lives with acts of compassion so that when Jesus returns he may find in us some reflection of himself and welcome us to enter into his kingdom. Those blessed to spend eternity serving their God will enjoy the true happiness of immortality that is the reward of the faithful.
Robert J. Lloyd