The Idolatry of Happiness

From the title of this article you might assume that I am going to rail against happiness. That is certainly not my intention, rather my intention is to warn against the ever growing tendency to raise “happiness” to such a high level of importance that it turns into an idol. We commit idolatry when someone or something other then God is exalted to the position of utmost importance. For some people this has become happiness.

Happiness has become an idol when it is considered to be the chief aim of ones life. People frequently saw, “Do what makes you happy.” This statement, although often times said offhandedly, is deeply flawed. It elevates happiness to the deciding factor in someone’s choice. What if what makes me happy hurts someone else? What if what makes me happy is watching sitcoms all day, and therefore my other responsibilities are neglected?

Few people can say that when they wake up and go to work they are filled with happiness to find that the plow has created an impenetrable snow wall at the end of their driveway that they have to shovel through to get to their place of employment.

One could argue that this statement is not meant to be literal, or that we have to do many unhappy things to reach something that makes us happy. The primary issue with this statement is that if happiness is our goal we will always be chasing after a moving target. The things that made me happy when I was sixteen are not the same things that make me happy now that I am twenty-four, and if I were still doing what made me happy at sixteen my life would be in shambles. For example, I have a toddler who thinks happiness is playing on my phone and eating insane amounts of chocolate. One of my roles as a father is to deny her what makes her happy now so that she does not throw up later. They sad reality is, chasing after temporal happiness often times distracts us from what will ultimately lead us to enduring happiness.

People mistake happiness for their ultimate goal and they also use happiness as a moral guide. I cannot count how many times I have been in a conversation about a moral choice with someone and they said something like, “Don’t you think I should be happy?” or “I was not happy so I had to make a change.” If happiness is our moral guide then nothing is forbidden. Why should children obey, couples work through struggles, or laborers toil if happiness is their god? If happiness were our moral guide then we would all be justified in drugging ourselves into a stupor and withering away while our minds are filled with euphoria.

Jesus said in John 15:9-11,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Ultimately we will be left disappointed with temporal happiness if its pursuit means we miss out on Christ’s eternal joy. What makes us happy today may bring us sorrow tomorrow. Actions decided in the present on the basis of happiness may lead to regret and pain in the future. Happiness cannot be our god if we want to live an abundant life, because our hearts long for more then this world can offer.

Happiness, in its proper form is not a goal to be worked towards, but rather a byproduct of proper conduct. True enduring happiness is experienced as a result of living a righteous life and being in right relationship with God, loved ones, and the world around us. C. S. Lewis said, ““If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” If happiness remains as the chief aim of our lives we will find ourselves unsatisfied. If we want to be truly satisfied our goal must be abiding in the love of Jesus and we do that by obeying His commandments. God instructs us to live moral lives not to restrict us from happiness but so that we can experience lasting happiness. We are limited in our perception and therefore we often times do not know what will lead to our happiness. If we take our sights off the goal of being happy and instead aim for Christ, happiness will be the byproduct of a life lived for God. When we remove happiness from the throne in our lives and allow Jesus to take His rightful seat, we will experience true happiness and everlasting joy.

Author: Nathan Phillips, Associate Pastor of the River Alliance Church


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