Lots of people are looking for happiness. In the United States the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as a God-given inalienable right. And isn’t it something that everyone wants? Don’t we all avoid things that make us sad or angry and gravitate towards things that make us happy?
Promises of happiness
It doesn’t take a long time listening to modern media to find many offers of things that promise to make you happy. Some vendors promise the best-tasting food and drink. You know, like “Coca-Cola—open happiness?” Or maybe it will be a fast car, the right mouthwash, a vacation in the islands, or even the right politician in office.
The Writings of the New Church tell a story of a number of people who died and went to heaven—or rather, what they understood was heaven. Angels asked them what they thought would make them happy in heaven forever. After some discussion, their answers fell into six categories, something like these:
“I would be eternally happy if I had high rank and wealth. Don’t we get to be kings with Christ in heaven?”
“Nothing would make me happier than worshipping and glorifying God every day to eternity.”
“For me, its sunshine, flowers and trees—being in God’s nature.”
“I would rather spend my time connecting with friends, talking about whatever is on our minds.”
“Me? I never get tired of partying. Eat, drink and be merry!”
“I have to be around happy people. Negative people depress me. Cheerful, positive people lift me up.”
Hearing these answers, the angels guided people from each group to the “heaven” of their dreams. The people who wanted partying found themselves at an outdoor festival with non-stop entertainment, tables crowded with food, sitting with famous people. They ate all they wanted, listened to the music and watched the shows, then ate some more. After three days of this, they were partied out. The smell of food made them nauseous and they desperately wanted to leave.
The people who wanted just to worship God were taken to a temple with a perpetual Sabbath, listening to sermons, praying, talking about holy matters. At first the worship seemed beautiful and joyful, but after three days they were either falling asleep during the sermons or breaking the doors down to get out.
Similar things happened to all the other groups. They had all found things that might make them happy for a while, but not for very long. In every case, the things they expected would make them happy were things outside themselves—their environment, the people, the food or the experience. What they discovered is that as long as you are looking for something outside of yourself to make you happy, it will never be more than a temporary distraction. Real happiness does not come in through your five senses, nor as a result of experiences or people around you. Real happiness comes from God into your soul, and from there flows into your heart and mind, finally energizing your body. We might not realize this because we can’t feel the happiness flowing in. It doesn’t come through our senses so we don’t sense it. Furthermore, sometimes it doesn’t flow in, and we don’t feel happy, except for the temporary distractions of outward experiences.
God has lots of happiness to share with us
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). God always wants to pour happiness in to our lives, but there are two things that stop the happiness from getting through. The first is that the pipeline might be clogged up. There may be too much garbage in the way, such as resentment, worry, fear, hatred, anger, contempt and negativity. We won’t feel true happiness until we let go of some of those negative emotions, generally result from selfishness and materialism, caring more about our feelings of pleasure than about the feelings of other people.
The other thing that stops the happiness from flowing in is that it doesn’t have any place to go. If you look at your sink at home, there is a relatively infinite supply of water in the pipe leading to the faucet in your sink, but most of the time the faucet is shut off, so the water doesn’t flow. The water can only flow into the faucet when it can flow out of the faucet. Likewise, God can only influence us in a way that makes us happy if that influence is moving through us to other people to affect them in the same way.
Another analogy is electricity. It won’t flow through a light bulb or motor unless the circuit is complete. The electricity can’t flow into the motor or light bulb unless is can also flow out. There are trillions of trillions of electrons in a small piece of wire, but they don’t give any energy to the motor unless they are moving.
One definition of love is “feeling the joy of another as joy in oneself” (Divine Love and Wisdom 47). When your focus is on the joy of another person, then the circuit is complete. Love and happiness can then flow into you from the Lord and out of you to another person. The more it is flowing, the more power it has. If you try to just hold on to it and not share it, it is like trying to hold on to the electrons in the light bulb instead of keeping them flowing.
The way happiness flows from us to other people is through the things we do for them
These include acts of service, good deeds and honest work. A salesperson who does a good job of finding people what they need will make many people happy. A doctor who heals people, a banker who keeps money safe or a teacher who really helps students learn will all do their part to make the community a happy place. In any family, group or organization, the services people provide to care for each other are what makes things go better for everyone. So if you want happiness, keep asking, How can I help? How can I participate? How can I be of use? Where can I plug in and complete the circuit? How can I bring more integrity and compassion into my workplace? What will make the customer’s life better? Where can I make a difference?”
The Rev. John Odhner is a content developer for General Church Outreach.