The goal of human happiness is, of course, a totally worthy one with which few would disagree, but the words “pursuit of Happiness” can sometimes cause a misunderstanding. All too often we tend to think of happiness as a goal to be pursued, a thing to be chased, caught up with and captured; but there can be problems with this idea of pursuing happiness.
If we pursue happiness as a goal in itself, we never really find it. We have a whole book of the Bible – the Book of Ecclesiastes – reminding us of that truth. This is because happiness is not a commodity to be hunted and caught; it comes as a side-effect of what we do. We have only to read widely in literature to see that this has been something that wise men and women have understood for millennia – that rather than being an independent commodity we somehow gain, happiness is something we produce by what we do. Solomon found this (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26), and consider these few modern examples: Eleanor Roosevelt wrote “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” That is what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he wrote “Some pursue happiness - others create it.” And the current Dalai Lama has said: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
But if that was all there is to happiness, everyone would do things that made them happy and everyone would be happy – which we know is far from the truth. Unfortunately, many people short-circuit the production of happiness in a particular way. Writer Freya Stark summarized this: “There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” And remember that Jesus himself said, as he concluded the teaching of his disciples: “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (John 13:17 KJV).
There is an undeniable link between what we know and what we do. No matter what we do to try to produce happiness in our lives, our attempts will always be short-circuited if there is a gap between belief and practice, between our faith and our actions. Sometimes a little meditation on that fact is a far more effective way to get back to producing happiness in our lives than trying to chase happiness by seeking it some other way.
But a major lesson that we humans have learned through history is that we become happy as a result of what we do. So what particular actions make us happy? Once again we can look to Ecclesiastes to see that satisfying our every whim certainly does not produce happiness, and that chasing happiness is a “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). But if we look again to the words of Christ “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them,” it is clear that “these things” are the things Jesus had taught his disciples – foremost of which are the principles of giving and serving. It is in this context that we should also remember Jesus’ words that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It is no coincidence that the Greek word makarion – “blessed” also means “happy.” If we are doing these things we won’t have to pursue happiness because, invariably, happiness will come to us.