The search for happiness is a life-controlling pursuit. We might seek it in many ways, but we all seek it. However, happiness is an elusive butterfly, seemingly within reach but almost impossible to grasp.
Social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, has observed:
· “You dream of getting a promotion, being accepted into a prestigious school, or finishing a big project. You work every waking hour, perhaps imagining how happy you will be if you could just achieve that goal. Then you succeed, and if you’re lucky you get an hour, maybe a day, of euphoria.”
Many are convinced that wealth buys happiness. However, after exploring the data, Haidt concluded:
· “Wealth itself has only a small direct effect on happiness because it so effectively speeds up the hedonic treadmill… As the level of wealth has doubled or tripled in the last fifty years in many industrialized nations, the levels of happiness and satisfaction with life that people report have not changed, and depression has actually become more common.”
We tend to dream about what we do not have. While the wealthy might continue to obsessively pursue wealth as the addict pursues his drug, they have little hope that it can buy the happiness they seek.
And it’s not just wealth that disappoints. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert cites other failed dreams:
· “From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have.”
Instead, unlike in animal world, the human dream for temporal satisfaction often morphs into a dream of the eternal, if it remains alive. Haidt wrote,
· “Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger.”
Why should we despair of having our dreams fulfilled in the temporal? There are many indications that we were made for relationship and not for self-fulfillment. Philosopher Alain de Botton identifies an overlooked but important distinction:
· “[Modern society has] nothing at its center that is non-human. We are the first society to be living in a world where we don’t worship anything other than ourselves.”
Although it is natural to want to be fulfilled, perhaps we have been focusing on the wrong thing. MIT Professor Ian Hutchinson became a Christian at Cambridge University. He found that the most fundamental aspect of reality is the ultimate “loving relationship”:
· “The fundamental assumption in the intellectual West today is that there is no reality beyond what natural science discovers and that there is no authority or good higher than the freedom of the individual. Both science and individual freedom are good. But followers of Jesus, like me, have a different view. We believe that both the deepest reality and the highest moral meaning, good, and authority are to be found in loving relationship.” (All of the above quotations: http://www.veritas.org/modern-psychology-biblical-wisdom/ )
Meanwhile, some claim that this relationship is delusional, perhaps an irrational by-product of evolution. But consider this – if evolution has equipped us with senses and intuitions fine-tuned for our survival and successful navigation of this world – and the irrational works against a successful adaptation – perhaps a belief in the Transcendent is not irrational. Perhaps it is as instructive of reality as is our moral, aesthetic, and taste-bud intuitions.
A belief in the God of the Bible is associated with many benefits – survival advantages. The deceased psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, had written the highly popular book, “The Road Less Traveled.” It had been successful because he was able to infuse barren psychology and clinical practice with a more robust and richer portrait of ourselves through his Buddhism. However, over the years, he began to observe improvement of a certain group of his patients, those who believed that their Savior would bring them through. Peck concluded:
· Now what better news can there be than we cannot lose, we are bound to win? We are guaranteed winners once we realize that everything that happens to us has been designed to teach us what we need to know on our journey. (“Further Along the Road Less Traveled” was written 15 years later.)
He became so convinced about the need for this conviction that he too became a Christian.
This doesn’t mean that our dream has been fulfilled in this life. However, as radar can detect the approach of an airplane, we too can detect the fruition of our not-too-distant dream.