“Tomorrow” is a strange concept. No matter how close you come to it, you’ll never actually reach it—because once that clock ticks over to midnight, what was once tomorrow becomes today, and tomorrow takes a 24-hour step away from you. It’s an unattainable goal, always floating close in front of us but never coming at all within our grasp.
For many people, happiness functions in much the same way. In a culture so intent on convincing the everyday consumer that he is entitled to nothing short of the treatment and possessions typically reserved for royalty, it’s not difficult to convince ourselves, “If I just had ______, I’d be happy.” We let either the advertising around us or our own inner voice convince us that the only thing standing between ourselves and happiness is…fill in the blank.
Maybe it’s a new car. Maybe it’s a promotion. Maybe it’s just having a few extra dollars every week so that dinner can consist of more than a bowl of Ramen noodles. Whatever goes in our blank, it’s something we’ve convinced ourselves we must attain before we can really be happy. And when our months or years of hard work pay off and we find the object of our blank in our possession, we realize that we are, at long last, finally happy.
A fickle cycle
…At least, for a time. But inevitably (and often quicker than we imagined), the shine of our newest acquisition, accomplishment, or milestone starts to grow dull—and that’s about the time we notice something new in our blank. Yes, we thought filling in that old blank would make us happy, but now we know we were wrong. There’s something better out there—and if we just had that, we’d be happy.
And so a cycle begins to emerge. Maybe at first we just wanted a car. Then it was a nicer car. Then it was nicer cars. The happiness we expect to find at each progressive step is like chasing tomorrow: we can only get so close before it flies off into the distance, beckoning us to begin the journey yet again. Time and time again we march toward it, certain that this time…this time, we won’t lose hold of it.
The apostle Paul wrote to warn Timothy of this vicious cycle, saying “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Of interesting note here is that those who desire to be rich, no doubt in pursuit of their own happiness, end up instead piercing themselves through “with many sorrows.” Once we begin equating milestones like these with happiness, we become our own taskmasters, driving ourselves on to reach each one in a futile journey destined to end in disappointment. The very path we expected to lead us to joy is in fact an express route to depression.
Paul also provides Timothy with the way out of the cycle: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). That’s it. Food and clothing. Not a big screen TV, not a better job, not a nicer house, not even nice food and nice clothing. Just plain old food and clothing are the only physical requirements the Bible lists for finding contentment.
Beyond the physical
Let’s pause a moment for a reality check. Do you have access to food? Are you in possession of clothing? I imagine that anyone reading this can answer yes. There’s also a high probability that you’re reading this from a device capable of accessing the Internet, probably from within the walls of the place you call home. So not only do you have food and clothing, you have at least a handful of blessings above and beyond those basics—and if you take a moment to truly and honestly count them, I’d be surprised if you didn’t find yourself with far more than a handful.
And yet these blessings, as we have seen, cannot themselves bring contentment. Food and clothing are necessary to sustain physical life, but they themselves aren’t the key to happiness. For that, we have to look beyond the physical.
Refocus your hunger
It’s hard-wired into human nature to want more—to improve ourselves. Unfortunately, it’s an easy trap (as we’ve noted) to apply this character trait to wanting more stuff. There isn’t anything wrong or evil about money, possessions, or other milestones, but when we begin loving them, we start down the road that the Bible and simple observation tell us ends in being pierced through with many sorrows.
The real key to happiness requires a shift in focus. Paul continues in his admonition to Timothy, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). God designed you to want more—not of the physical, but of the spiritual. Chasing stuff leaves us feeling empty because physical objects cannot satiate a spiritual hunger.
You were built to pursue—pursue righteousness. Pursue Godliness. Pursue faith, love, patience, and gentleness. You were built to fight for more—fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life. When God formed you in the womb, He formed you with a desire to improve yourself—and the milestones of this world pale in comparison to eternal life as sons and daughters of God in His Kingdom.
The key to happiness isn’t seeking stuff—it’s pursuing Godly character. Do you want to be content? Then don’t choose a path focused on filling your pockets with things. Make sure instead that your feet are on the path leading you to become more like your Creator.
Until next time,