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  • The Pursuit of Happiness

    Where does happiness come from? A few years ago my wife and I sat down over several days to do a little happiness audit. We wanted to try and figure out what really makes us happy. On my list I wrote that I love a hammock, attempting to smoke meat on my BBQ, and drinking slushy drinks on the back deck with my kids running around. It sounds heavenly to me, maybe even happy.

    But even as we wrote out our lists we realized that the ‘things’ we wanted were not really that good at making us happy. Sure, I love smoked meat and a margarita, but that’s not really enough to make me happy in that deeply satisfied, warmly loved, and purposefully present way that I’ve experienced at times in my life. Happiness, it seems, is not often found in what I can possess or consume, it’s found in something more.

    The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark is working on finding the source of happiness. We might be surprised to learn that their office is not a perpetual rave and nor is there a piñata hanging in the office bathroom. Happiness, according to them, does not come from these things. Rather, they are narrowing happiness down to satisfaction, mood, sense of purpose, meaning, and a discovery of the Good Life.

    As it seems, there is a difference between appetite and appreciation in our pursuit of happiness. Happiness that comes from appetite is a happiness that involves consumption, acquisition, and competition to get what others perhaps cannot. It is rooted in filling up until bursting, and then taking even more if we can. It can provide a short sense of pleasure, but upon reflection, it is not the kind of happiness that most people really long for. Appreciation, on the other hand, is the source of another kind of happiness. It is the ability to enjoy, delight in, and be present with things, experiences, places, and people that we find around us. Appreciation does not need to take or consume to be happy. It can appreciate a common food, rainy weather, an old friend, or a familiar song and enjoy the moment. It does not need bigger or better, but can find pleasure in simple things. In fact, appreciation cannot be exhausted because it can continually find more to appreciate the more it looks for it.

    In our neighbourhoods happiness can be found in a similar way. If we come to our community with an appetite that needs to be filled by others, we will be disappointed. We will think others are here to make us happy, to serve us, and to fulfill our emotional needs. The pamphlet that sold us on Chestermere will look pretty dated and stale if we expect our city to serve our appetite. We will become jaded, disappointed, and we will look for a way to move on. However, if we come to our community with a sense of appreciation, we will discover that happiness is not something we consume, but something we discover together. The simple hum and buzz of our community will be the foundation of a life of the Good Life, and even our very happiness.

    Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, was speaking along these lines when he said, “Blessed are the poor, the peace makers, the merciful, the humble,” and so on. These, I think, are foundational postures for happiness. In fact, “blessed are…” is sometimes translated as, “happy are.” It’s the sense that happiness does not come from what our appetites demand, but in our participation in the world around us with peace, mercy, humility, and open handedness. 

    The pursuit of happiness is universal, and the happiness you are looking for may be right outside your front door this summer. May you appreciate every moment of the life you’ve been given.

    Where does happiness come from? A few years ago my wife and I sat down over several days to do a little happiness audit. We wanted to try and figure out what really makes us happy. On my list I wrote that I love a hammock, attempting to smoke meat on my BBQ, and drinking slushy drinks on the back deck with my kids running around. It sounds heavenly to me, maybe even happy.

    But even as we wrote out our lists we realized that the ‘things’ we wanted were not really that good at making us happy. Sure, I love smoked meat and a margarita, but that’s not really enough to make me happy in that deeply satisfied, warmly loved, and purposefully present way that I’ve experienced at times in my life. Happiness, it seems, is not often found in what I can possess or consume, it’s found in something more.

    The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark is working on finding the source of happiness. We might be surprised to learn that their office is not a perpetual rave and nor is there a piñata hanging in the office bathroom. Happiness, according to them, does not come from these things. Rather, they are narrowing happiness down to satisfaction, mood, sense of purpose, meaning, and a discovery of the Good Life.

    As it seems, there is a difference between appetite and appreciation in our pursuit of happiness. Happiness that comes from appetite is a happiness that involves consumption, acquisition, and competition to get what others perhaps cannot. It is rooted in filling up until bursting, and then taking even more if we can. It can provide a short sense of pleasure, but upon reflection, it is not the kind of happiness that most people really long for. Appreciation, on the other hand, is the source of another kind of happiness. It is the ability to enjoy, delight in, and be present with things, experiences, places, and people that we find around us. Appreciation does not need to take or consume to be happy. It can appreciate a common food, rainy weather, an old friend, or a familiar song and enjoy the moment. It does not need bigger or better, but can find pleasure in simple things. In fact, appreciation cannot be exhausted because it can continually find more to appreciate the more it looks for it.

    In our neighbourhoods happiness can be found in a similar way. If we come to our community with an appetite that needs to be filled by others, we will be disappointed. We will think others are here to make us happy, to serve us, and to fulfill our emotional needs. The pamphlet that sold us on Chestermere will look pretty dated and stale if we expect our city to serve our appetite. We will become jaded, disappointed, and we will look for a way to move on. However, if we come to our community with a sense of appreciation, we will discover that happiness is not something we consume, but something we discover together. The simple hum and buzz of our community will be the foundation of a life of the Good Life, and even our very happiness.

    Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, was speaking along these lines when he said, “Blessed are the poor, the peace makers, the merciful, the humble,” and so on. These, I think, are foundational postures for happiness. In fact, “blessed are…” is sometimes translated as, “happy are.” It’s the sense that happiness does not come from what our appetites demand, but in our participation in the world around us with peace, mercy, humility, and open handedness. 

    The pursuit of happiness is universal, and the happiness you are looking for may be right outside your front door this summer. May you appreciate every moment of the life you’ve been given.

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