Most people in the Western world seem rich and increased with goods. Incomes have doubled and even tripled over the last 50 years. Yet, each year, fewer and fewer people consider themselves “very happy.” And with the world dealing with an increasingly bleak economic outlook, depression and frustration are affecting many more.
Are you truly happy? If so, you are one of a dwindling few.
The story of wealth failing to bring real happiness is common in the Western world. It is a sad story, because happiness is correlated to all kinds of benefits, including long life, abundant health, resilience and good performance.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know what real happiness is or how to receive it. Most people think happiness comes from self-gratification, through the physical comforts, the toys, and the exotic vacations. Others seek after psychological rewards such as being accepted and appreciated. But any joy that comes from physical pleasure is only temporary.
There is, however, a formula that leads to true, lasting joy and happiness, as well as physical abundance.
What to Seek First
“Happiness is something that one can never reach out and take,” wrote Herbert W. Armstrong. “It comes only by finding God’s basic inexorable, spiritual law—the way of love, the way of giving, of serving, of doing good. The true basis of happiness is spiritual, not material” (Plain Truth, November/December 1984).
If only more people understood this basic truth. How many people have spent their whole lives in the pursuit of riches, while neglecting family, friends and their health—only to die, whether rich or not, unhappy and alone. J. Paul Getty was supposedly the 43rd richest man in human history. Yet, for all of his fabulous wealth, Getty is reputed to have said he would have given it all up for one happy marriage.
“[S]eek ye first the kingdom of God,” said Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:33). Seek the government of God, the government of the Creator of the universe and everything in it. Seek first His Kingdom, and every other blessing will be added. This is the key to true happiness and fulfillment.
To do this, you will have to live by every word of God. You will have to study the Bible to find out how to live. And you may be surprised to find out how different the world lives compared to the way God commands.
If you do this, however, God will make available a dynamic power to help you. “We need to receive and be filled with this dynamic power from above—from God Almighty—the very Spirit of God, the spirit of love and of understanding and wisdom, the spirit of faith, the spirit of patience, of power for self-mastery,” wrote Mr. Armstrong. “If you do, your life will be energized, it will become successful, it will become full and complete, it will become happy. And you’ll be prosperous in the long run” (ibid).
You must first study to find the true way of life. (To learn God’s laws of life and how to apply them, enroll in the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course. It is absolutely free.)
Don’t allow your job, your work, your profession to take priority over God. This might sound counterintuitive, but it is a law of God that leads to real prosperity: Seek Him first, then all else will come.
What you set your hand to do, do with your might and your energy, as God commands (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The result will be that you will free your mind from anxious concern, worry and fears. You will have faith, relying on God’s guidance and help. You will always try your best, but then trust God with the result. You will find real peace, happiness and joy first of all. The consequence will be material prosperity and happiness, within God’s time frame.
Rules for Life
Jesus Christ, in some of His last instructions to His followers before His death, revealed how we can be happy. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:10-11).
The only way to experience true happiness is to keep God’s commandments. When you do this, you invite God to put His very joy within you! The Ten Commandments are proven laws. God designed them to produce all the good that men desire. All human suffering is caused by disobedience to and rejection of those laws. Yet today, many view the Ten Commandments as a restrictive law that takes all the fun and happiness out of life. That belief is based on ignorance.
Even secular authorities and scientists see the value in keeping the commandments—although they don’t often realize or admit it.
Healthy relationships with family and friends are a major key to making us happy, scientists claim. Research is now showing that just as stress can trigger ill health, deep relationships with family and friends can have a protective effect. It is even suggested that friendship can actually ward off germs. Marriage is another important contributor to happiness. Studies show that not only do married people report higher levels of happiness but even that marriage adds an average of four years to the life of a woman, and a whopping seven years to that of a man.
If you study the Ten Commandments, you will realize that God designed them to govern all our relationships. The last six are specifically intended to teach people how to love each other. Love is the deepest of all relationships. If you obey God’s law—which is love (Romans 13:10)—healthy marriages and healthy relationships are the natural result.
Being content with what we have also makes us happy, say researchers.
It can be hard for people in prosperous nations to realize it, but money just can’t buy happiness. High income does not equal high fulfillment. Even if we say we know that, in most cases, deep down we just don’t buy it.
Surveys show that as incomes grow, the ability to discern wants from needs shrivels. Luxuries become necessities. A second car, a cell phone, a big-screen tv with satellite hookup, a laptop with wireless Internet—people think they just can’t live without them. (Of course, thousands of years of human experience prove otherwise.)
How is it possible that the most prosperous people in history feel deprived? “If you start making $100,000 a year, it takes $200,000 to make you happy,” explains Ed Diener, a University of Illinois psychologist. “People just start expecting more out of life.”
Surely the inability to differentiate between what we want and what we need is one of the primary sources of our discontent—and one of the things we must fix if we want to be truly happy.
It was almost 2,000 years ago that Jesus Christ warned, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15; Revised Standard Version). This simple wisdom is easy to lose sight of in our consumerist culture—it is simply overwhelmed by precisely the opposite message.
The trouble is, “it is thought that we tend to see our life as judged against other people” (bbc: April 30, 2006). People compare themselves with each other, despite God’s clear admonition not to (2 Corinthians 10:12). Inevitably, things always seem greener on the other side of the fence. It is human nature to want what others have, and then, once you have it, to want something else. It is all part of “keeping up with the Joneses”—which is coveting, something God specifically forbids in the Tenth Commandment.
This materialistic culture is destroying families across the country and around the world. To make enough money to pay for lavish lifestyles, people are working longer hours, often at more stressful jobs. Families consider two incomes a necessity. With most parents working outside the home (in the U.S., over 7 in 10 mom-aged married women), an estimated 57 percent of our children do not have full-time parental supervision. Many parents lament having to spend more time at work than would be ideal for their families (80 percent of Australians, in another Newspoll survey)—but far fewer cut back on work in order to prioritize their families over the additional earnings.
Choosing material goods over family also exacts its toll in another, subtler way. More and more couples are looking at the costs of having children and deciding they cannot afford parenthood. This, again, in the richest societies in history. Perhaps no trend exposes our skewed values more: We are simply unwilling to give up life’s luxuries—fleeting and hollow as they are—for the sake of something as pricey as family—enduring and precious as it is.
Those couples who do have children fight materialism in other ways. Americans spend six hours a week shopping—compared to only 40 minutes a week playing with their children. With parental examples like these, then, it’s no surprise that as children grow into teenagers, consumerist influences contribute heavily to the generation gap. Polls show that parents become substantially concerned about the effect of materialism on their children through these years as the powerful lure of youth culture divides teens from their families. In addition, as more and more families fill their homes with surround-sound theaters and other gadgets to plug into, socialization and communion dwindles. Family members become strangers.
These trends are also visible outside the home, as neighbors lose touch with one another and civic organizations wither for lack of participation. Hyper-consumerism creates a nation of selfish pleasure-seekers and loners.
Add up all these factors—including more stress, overwork, social isolation—and one begins to see why fatter paychecks have not brought more happiness. But there is a way to combat this.
Researchers say that regularly giving thanks and vocalizing the blessings you do have is another big key to happiness (Ephesians 5:20).
Simply writing down three things that went well during the day and why, or writing a note of gratitude and delivering it personally, produced better results in an uncontrolled study of 500 participants than anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy, said Prof. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In his study, 94 percent of severely depressed people became less depressed and 92 percent became happier, with an average symptom relief of an astounding 50 percent over only 15 days. The truth is that being content and grateful is really an integral part of fulfilling the Tenth Commandment.
Something Bigger Than You
There are two other commonly cited ingredients of happiness. Researchers say the happiest people are those who have a “belief in something bigger than oneself” and a long-term goal that they are working toward.
That takes us back to Matthew 6:33 and Jesus’s formula for happiness and success: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” The hope of the coming Kingdom of God should be the driving motivator behind all of our actions. Seeking that Kingdom should be our goal. And then, as the rest of the scripture says, all the rest “shall be added unto you.”
That is how, even during a recession, you can find true joy, happiness, abundant health and prosperity—and all you could ever hope for!