RECENTLY I saw a catalog that was offering to sell me happiness in the form of tapes that would instill subliminal messages into my consciousness. This got me to thinking about what happiness is and where it comes from. Often we think of happiness in terms of accomplishment, of relationships, or perhaps of obtaining a greatly desired object such as a house or car. But such happiness, if thought of in purely material terms, isn't permanent. We may lose our jobs, the car may break down, a relationship can turn sour.
But programmed happiness from tapes that act subliminally to tell us what good people we are isn't the answer either. Such artificial ``happiness'' tends to keep us thinking in material terms. Even if it would seem to give us a lift, the change is temporary, and it also may become a way of covering our problems instead of solving them.
Short-term efforts to ``program'' thinking or to fabricate a kind of happiness created by someone else won't enable us to understand our true selfhood. And however much we may try to tailor our needs and lives, we need genuine self-knowledge in order to bring permanent change and real happiness to our lives.
There is, however, an effective approach -- one that shows us how genuine happiness is possible. It comes to us through prayer and has its roots within our understanding of God. It involves a change in our outlook toward life. Instead of thinking of ourselves as material beings, striving to obtain material objects or relationships in order to be happy, we learn that we are completely spiritual, the sons and daughters of God.
Since God is both Truth and Love -- and all of us seek these qualities to at least some degree in our lives -- a clearer understanding of Him and of His power can have a direct impact on all that we do. As Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, explains in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ``Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love.''1
Prayer is a means of accepting our spiritual identity and seeing it transform our lives. By prayer, I don't mean the endless repetition of a particular set of sentences or phrases until they seem almost meaningless. Instead, I'm referring to spiritual reasoning that leads us to understand that we are inseparable from God and that it is His will for us to know Him and feel His presence wherever we are.
Christ Jesus understood better than anyone else the importance of knowing God. He taught and healed from the standpoint that we are spiritual and in fact the children of God. He made clear, however, that to gain the rewards of being God's children, we have to be living from a spiritual basis. This involves examining our lives and our motives and asking ourselves what we are pursuing. Are we striving for real, spiritual happiness, or have we unwittingly been thinking of happiness only in material terms?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a wonderful rule of thumb for determining which type of satisfaction we are pursuing. He said, ``Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.''2 Clearly, happiness that can be lost or spoiled can't hold a candle to happiness that is permanent and unchanging.
But this doesn't mean that we need to give up worthwhile activities and live as ascetics. Instead, it enables us to think of all we do in terms of God's good purpose for us. For example, the desire for accomplishment is not a bad thing if it rests on the spiritual desire to express one's full potential in the form of beauty, intelligence, joy, and other qualities that we inherently have as God's children.
Similarly, a healthy foundation for relationships is in the love that sees the spirituality in another. If we are seeing goodness in the ones we love and are praying to better express truth, peace, and purity toward them, our happiness and theirs is magnified. Even the desire for a car or for a home can have a spiritual motive behind it if we are looking upon them as ways of expressing love toward others.
All of us want to be happy, but to obtain permanent happiness, the kind that truly transforms our lives and gives them new and deeper meaning, we need to go beyond the mental to the spiritual. This happiness can't be bought. It comes from God and is accessible right now to each of us.
1Science and Health, p. 57. 2Matthew 6:20, 21.
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BIBLE VERSE: Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.... I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth.... Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
Psalms 16:1, 8, 9, 11