I have a married colleague who is one of the most miserable people I know.
Big house. Additional getaway homes (yes, plural). Lots of toys. Takes more vacations than you can count. Girlfriend on the side.
With all that has come constant unhappiness, anger directed at everyone around them, zero patience for any life hiccup, and an irritability that’s been permanently carved into their face.
A depressing state of affairs for sure.
If you don’t want to end up like him, then give me a couple of minutes to walk you down the road this guy followed and point out the three tried-and-true ways he used to make himself miserable.
This thing will make me happy
The first signpost on the route to grief instructs you to make yourself happy by acquiring stuff. Let’s call it the “this thing will make me happy” lie.
It usually starts out with acquiring small items, then moves on to bigger purchases and may even lead to full-blown oniomania (shopaholic disease). Sooner or later it all adds up and results in what I see when some of my neighbors open their 3-car garages to reveal a structure that is packed to the rafters will so much stuff their homes can’t contain it.
If you’ve tried making yourself happy with things, then I’m sure you’ve discovered that the rush only lasts until you put the latest Amazon box in the garbage and then … you’re almost immediately overcome with the desire to take another ‘hit’ of acquiring something new. And on it goes.
Football great Deon Sanders discovered this after he won his first Super Bowl. He describes sitting in bed with his victory ring, having just ordered a new Ferrari and feeling absolutely empty inside because there was nothing else he could think of that he wanted.
This experience will make me happy
When stuff fails to produce real happiness, people then move on to, “this experience will make me happy.”
It begins innocently enough with a vacation here and there, but just like acquiring new shinies, reality starts to bite hard again when you return home and feel the exact same as before you left. Because the itch doesn’t go away, more frequent distractions are often pursued in the form of either false spiritual experiences or chemical escapes like drugs and alcohol.
But each of those carries its own penalties of meaninglessness, addiction, and physical ailments, which can quickly become life-threatening.
Moving on ...
This person will make me happy
Last stop on the misery train is the “this person will make me happy” lie. Of the three, this one comes the most naturally to us because we are made in the image of a Creator who is innately relational and has said it’s not good for us to be alone (Gen. 2:18).
This being true, things kick off with good intentions like the pursuit of a lifelong mate, but if that partnership is formed via bad choices (e.g., marrying an unbeliever, 2 Cor. 6:14) or the inevitable challenges that come with being with another person aren’t handled well, the wheels can come off in spectacular fashion. This can then lead to things like affairs, divorce or the wrongheaded decision to have a child in hopes of strengthening a failing marriage.
Time to look up
The Bible warns about pursuing all three of these superficial attempts at real happiness.
When it comes to materialism, David wrote: “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and the greedy man curses and spurns the Lord” (Ps. 10:3) and his son Solomon follows up by bluntly saying, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity” (Ecc. 5:10). Jesus also warned “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19).
Descending into experiential escapes like substance abuse get plenty of ink in Scripture, such as this warning from Proverbs: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper” (Prov. 23:29-32).
As for finding our ultimate happiness in people, C. S. Lewis, in his essay The Sermon and the Lunch, points out that even this can be a form of sinful avarice if pursued in the wrong way: “The greed to be loved is a fearful thing. Some of those who say (and almost with pride) that they live only for love come, at last, to live in incessant resentment.”
Augustine warned that humanity’s primary problem was one of having what he called “disordered loves,” meaning not so much that we love the wrong things but that we have our primary loves out of their proper sequence. In first place, Augustine said in his Confessions, must be God because, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
Once our “disordered loves” become ordered, then we can begin to truly enjoy whatever gifts God provides. For example, having money and things is fine as long as we are first “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). When God is primary in our life and we make choices regarding a mate that are in line with His Word, then we can, “rejoice in the [spouse] of your youth and … be exhilarated always with [their] love” (Prov. 5:18, 19).
In the end, looking horizontally first for happiness is a sure way to fail at it. Instead, we should “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.