Have you ever stood at a crossroads in your life and wondered what would make you happy? I have.
When I was younger, I thought it would be friends or a particular friend, getting out from under school loans, career opportunities, or losing a few pounds.
All too often, what we thought would make us happy hasn't, so we've found ourselves on a never-ending quest to grab that carrot that bobs along just beyond reach.
Recently, three psychologists and an economist studied the litany of answers and wondered: Do we really know? Does that promised happiness really pan out in the end?
They've determined that we're not so great at anticipating what will make us happy, especially when it comes to choices such as buying a big house, working long hours for a bigger paycheck, or buying a new car or a piece of jewelry. One psychologist calls it "miswanting" (see "The Futile Pursuit of Happiness," New York Times, Sept. 7).
None of the findings from the recent study regarding happiness comes as much of a surprise to one who, as a child, was told, "You'd better watch what you want, because you may get it!" Nor should it come as a surprise to a reader of the New Testament, since Jesus and his followers said a lot on this subject. They marked a pretty clear path that leads to happiness, where the promise of perfect human relationships, material possessions, and utopian circumstances fail.
If material possessions and human bliss become a person's endeavors, one is likely to discover that fear and greed slide through that crack in the window. These keep one from contentment by keeping thought in constant turmoil. On the other hand, seeking true happiness doesn't require that we sacrifice all worldly good - just that we get our priorities straight. In the words of the Master, we must seek "first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33).
We might think of this kingdom as "the reign of harmony" and "the atmosphere of Spirit," according to Mary Baker Eddy, author of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." So, seeking harmony and an atmosphere of Spirit is what brings true happiness. Anything short of this might satisfy for a moment, but will disappoint in the end because it lacks substance and staying power.
The great thing about setting out to achieve this kingdom of God is that we don't have to look too long and hard, because it's within reach of your consciousness and mine, right here and now. What's more, in his unfailing compassion, Jesus showed us exactly how to find that kingdom of God through what are called the Beatitudes, found in Matthew, chapter 5.
Each of these signposts begins with the word "blessed" in the King James Version of the Bible. Many contemporary Bible translations use the word "happy" in its place.
This kind of happiness is not superficial. It wells up from deep within our innermost selves, bringing with it a lovely serenity. The Beatitudes begin and end with the promise of the kingdom of heaven, right here on earth.
These are their requirements for happiness the Beatitudes provide:
• Enough humility to know our need of God and earnestly seek him.
• Compassion for those who live under tyranny of any sort - autocracy or theocracy, sickness or sin.
• Meekness, patience, and temperance.
• Hungering and thirsting for uprightness and a right standing with God.
• Mercy, even for those who don't humanly deserve it.
• Purity of heart.
• A willingness to be peacemakers, even in the face of bitter circumstances.
• Sufficient godly conviction to be willing to face ridicule.
The kind of happiness one finds in following the Beatitudes is not akin to what the world holds up as its model, since it is neither flashy nor fickle. Instead, it's the kind of contentment of an old oak tree that has sent its roots down deep and remains anchored when the gales beat against it. Armed with this blueprint for a blissful life, not even the surrounding storm can uproot us or throw us off balance. And if we'll seek it, our lives will echo the promise from I Timothy that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (6:6).
Happiness is spiritual,
born of Truth and Love.
It is unselfish; therefore
it cannot exist alone,
all mankind to share it.
Mary Baker Eddy