The Happiness Trap
When life’s already hard, I’ve realized I have a way of making it even harder.
I once saw a bumper sticker on a truck that said, “Life is tuff. Life is tuffer if you’re stupid.” I don’t live by bumper-sticker-philosophies, but I laughed at this one because I know it’s true. When trying to figure out if God is still good, I can be pretty stupid, which makes it worse.
>Hardships bring what I call The Happiness Trap. It’s vicious.
For some reason, I feel entitled to a good, comfortable, easyish life. I also think I should get a basic level of treats and toys to make my life “more better.” I even believe I should be spared discomfort or disappointment. I don’t know why I think that. I just do.
This eventually unhinges me.
I feel entitled to happiness, and when I don’t get it I wonder what’s wrong. Why isn’t God, my Heavenly Father, being a better dad and doing his job by giving me what I want? If he’s so good, he better make me feel good. Eventually I decide that if he won’t, I will—so I go about ways to make myself feel good. After all, through culture and society I’ve learned over the years to seek my happiness above all else.
>I call this a trap because it’s so destructive.
Striving to be solely happy is a stupid way to live. It actually makes the subsequent pains of life even worse. That’s because a person is tempted to subdue the pain with happiness. Something new, often a good feeling, to dull the pain, instead of processing the range of emotions as they come and getting through it.
I’m convinced that once a person’s aim is to be happy above all else, that person will never be happy again. He’s doomed; she’s hopeless. And maturing is on pause.
>Searching out happiness above all else delays us from coming to terms with things and, even worse, we end up creating more of a mess.
For example, if I live by some sort of happiness meter in my marriage, it will fail. Just ask any honest couple. Happiness begins to wear off only a few months into marriage. It’s about the time the honeymoon feeling begins to fade a bit.
Many things contribute to the happiness meter registering low. It might be when he rolls over and smells her dragon breath in the morning (and she’s without make-up, to make matters worse). Or it might be when she walks in the bathroom after him and hits that potent invisible wall (because he forgot to spray the air-freshener). At this point, fights also become part of the routine. They aren’t necessarily directly related to the dragon-breath or invisible wall, but they happen.
Much of culture would say to move on and find happiness elsewhere. Search out the feeling wherever it may take you—follow you’re heart, they say. This is where the destruction begins.
>Happiness always wears off.
It leaks out. Happiness is an emotion, an appetite, and a fix. When the feeling goes away, we’re tempted to find another boost for it.
Life is about happiness, but it’s not all about happiness. There are priorities to consider. There’s a bigger picture that demands the guidance of principle over the infatuation of a jolt of fresh emotions. Seeking the emotion that is happiness always ends up being a mistake, because no matter how happy I am, I always want more. It’s never enough. There’s a balance to evaluate. Spending more money or eating more food doesn’t heal or mature me. It puts all that on pause. I’m happy for only a moment.
>This lust is a destructive cycle and makes the difficulties of life even more difficult—like putting salt on an open wound.
Totally focusing on happiness is dumb. It makes pain worse, because I’m inclined to do something, anything, to make the hurt go away—to make it feel all-better.
Some generic feel-good medicine becomes a temporary balm on a wound that eventually yields permanent regrets.
I’m tempted to find a new fix and inebriate the pain. I might end a relationship that reminds me of the ache or leaves me open to it again. Maturity is paused and personal progress is delayed when we do this.
>There’s a better pursuit than happiness. There’s a better goal to strive for: contentment.
Unlike happiness, contentment is a strategy, attitude, and approach. Happiness is like a moving target you try to hit, while contentment is constant movement in the right direction. Contentment is a decision rather than the result of peripheral situations. It’s an inner state, not swayed by the whims of outer dependence.
One can learn to be content regardless of surrounding circumstances—no matter how happy the meter inside says we are. Contentment transcends circumstance and emotion. An individual can have it in good and bad times.
But it takes discipline.
It means telling myself, “Things may not be what I want them to be. But I resolve that there can be purpose to my existence and value in each experience—the good and the bad. This will help me to learn, grow, change, and develop stronger character.”
>It’s a healthy and productive choice that, in the end, will bring true happiness.
This is a wiser approach.