What Does It Take to Make You Happy?
POLITICIANS elected by the people try hard to make such people happy. After all, their jobs depend upon it. But a newsmagazine speaks about “a disillusioned and alienated electorate” in Poland. A journalist explains that the United States is a society “filled with distrust of formal politics.” Another writer tells us about “growing political apathy in France.” Such widespread apathy and discontent—by no means confined to these three countries—suggests that politicians are failing in their endeavor to make people happy.
Religious leaders also promise happiness, if not in this life, then at least in a future one. They base this on the premise that humans have an immortal or transmigrating soul, an idea that many people for various reasons reject and that the Bible clearly refutes. Empty churches and shrinking membership rolls show that millions no longer consider religion vital to happiness.—Compare Genesis 2:7, 17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20.
Dissatisfied Lovers of Silver
If not in politics or in religion, where is happiness to be found? Perhaps in the realm of commerce? It too claims to be able to provide happiness. It presents its case through the medium of advertising, saying in so many words: Happiness comes from having all the material goods and services that money can buy.
The number of people seeking happiness in this way appears to be increasing. It was reported several years ago that every second household in Germany was seriously in debt. No wonder, then, that the prestigious German newspaper Die Zeit predicted that “many [of these] stand not the slightest chance of ever getting out of debt.” It explained: “It is so easy to overdraw to the limit the bank constantly offers you—and so hard to get your neck out of the noose.”
The situation in other highly industrialized nations is similar. A few years ago, David Caplovitz, a sociologist at the City University of New York, estimated that in the United States, between 20 million and 25 million households were seriously in debt. “People are in over their heads,” he said, “and it is ruining their lives.”
That hardly sounds like happiness! But should we expect the world of commerce to be able to accomplish what the other two (politics and religion) obviously cannot? Wealthy King Solomon once wrote: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income. This too is vanity.”—Ecclesiastes 5:10.
Seeking happiness in material possessions is like building castles in the air. It may be exciting to build them, but you will have problems if you try to live in them.
Happiness Is Attainable but How?
The apostle Paul calls Jehovah “the happy God.” (1 Timothy 1:11) By creating humans in his own image, the happy God gave them also the capacity for being happy. (Genesis 1:26) But their happiness was to be dependent upon their serving God, as the psalmist showed: “Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!” (Psalm 144:15b) What our service to God includes and how our serving him leads to true happiness can be better understood if we consider a few of the 110 places in the New World Translation where the words “happy” and “happiness” occur.
Recognizing Spiritual Needs
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, said in his famous Sermon on the Mount: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matthew 5:3) The world of commerce tries to mislead us into thinking that the purchase of luxuries is sufficient for happiness. It tells us that happiness is having a home computer, a video camera, a telephone, a car, the latest sports equipment, stylish clothing. What it does not tell us is that tens of millions of people in the world lack these things and yet are not necessarily unhappy. While possibly making life more comfortable and convenient, these things are not vital to happiness.
As did Paul, those conscious of their spiritual need say: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Timothy 6:8) Why? Because the satisfying of spiritual needs is what leads to eternal life.—John 17:3.
Is there anything wrong with enjoying good things if we have the money to buy them? Possibly not. Still, it strengthens our spirituality to learn not to indulge every whim or to buy something just because we can afford it. We thus learn contentment and maintain happiness, as did Jesus, even though his economic situation was not the best according to worldly standards. (Matthew 8:20) And Paul was not expressing unhappiness when he wrote: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want.”—Philippians 4:11, 12.
Trusting in Jehovah
Consciousness of one’s spiritual need indicates a willingness to trust in God. This makes for happiness, as King Solomon explained: “Happy is he that is trusting in Jehovah.”—Proverbs 16:20.
Is it not a fact, though, that many people put greater trust in money and possessions than they do in God? Viewed from this standpoint, there could hardly be a more inappropriate place to display the motto “In God We Trust” than upon money, although that expression does appear on U.S. currency.
King Solomon, who lacked none of the good things that money could buy, recognized that trusting in material possessions does not lead to lasting happiness. (Ecclesiastes 5:12-15) Money in the bank can be lost through bank failure or by inflation. Real estate can be destroyed by severe storms. Insurance policies, while partially replacing material losses, can never make up for emotional losses. Stocks and bonds can become worthless overnight in a sudden market crash. Even a well-paying job can—for any number of reasons—be here today and gone tomorrow.
For these reasons he that is trusting in Jehovah sees the wisdom of listening to Jesus’ warning: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”—Matthew 6:19, 20.
Accepting Divine Reproof
Counsel, even reproof, is welcome when given in a spirit of love by a true friend. A professed friend of God’s servant Job once self-righteously told him: “Happy is the man whom God reproves.” Although the statement is true, what Eliphaz implied by these words—that Job was guilty of serious wrongdoing—was not true. What a ‘troublesome comforter’! When, though, Jehovah later reproved Job in a loving way, Job humbly accepted the reproof and put himself in the way of greater happiness.—Job 5:17; 16:2; 42:6, 10-17.
Today, God does not speak to his servants directly as he did to Job. Instead, he reproves them by means of his Word and his spirit-directed organization. Christians who pursue materialistic interests, however, often have neither the time, the strength, nor the inclination to study the Bible regularly and attend all the meetings Jehovah’s organization provides.
The man whom God reproves, in accordance with Proverbs 3:11-18, recognizes the wisdom of accepting such reproof: “Happy is the man that has found wisdom, and the man that gets discernment, for having it as gain is better than having silver as gain and having it as produce than gold itself. It is more precious than corals, and all other delights of yours cannot be made equal to it. Length of days is in its right hand; in its left hand there are riches and glory. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its roadways are peace. It is a tree of life to those taking hold of it, and those keeping fast hold of it are to be called happy.”
Being Pure and Peace-Loving
Jesus described happy people as being “pure in heart” and “peaceable.” (Matthew 5:8, 9) But in a world that encourages a materialistic life-style, how easy for selfish, possibly even impure, desires to take root in our hearts! If not guided by divine wisdom, how easy for us even to be misled into seeking financial well-being by questionable means that would destroy peaceful relationships with others! Not without reason, the Bible warns: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:10.
The love of money promotes an egotistical view that fosters dissatisfaction, ungratefulness, and greed. To prevent such a wrong spirit from developing, some Christians before making major financial decisions ask themselves such questions as: Do I really need it? Do I need this expensive purchase or this well-paying, time-consuming job more than the millions of other people who must live without it? Could I perhaps better spend my money or my time in expanding my share in true worship, in supporting the worldwide preaching work, or in helping people less fortunate than I am?
One of the trials that Job was forced to endure was economic deprivation. (Job 1:14-17) As his example shows, endurance is called for in every aspect of life. Some Christians must endure persecution; others, temptation; still others, less-than-ideal economic conditions. But endurance of every kind will be rewarded by Jehovah, as the Christian disciple James wrote in reference to Job: “We pronounce happy those who have endured.”—James 5:11.
Neglecting spiritual interests in order to better our economic situation may bring temporary economic relief, but will it help to keep bright our vision of permanent economic relief under God’s Kingdom? Is it a risk worth taking?—2 Corinthians 4:18.
Finding Happiness Now and Forever
Some people obviously dispute Jehovah’s view of what it takes to make humans happy. Overlooking the more important long-term benefits, they see no immediate personal advantage in doing what God counsels. They fail to realize that trusting in material things is vanity and leads to frustration. The Bible writer correctly asks: “When good things become many, those eating them certainly become many. And what advantage is there to the grand owner of them, except looking at them with his eyes?” (Ecclesiastes 5:11; see also Ecclesiastes 2:4-11; 7:12.) How quickly interest fades and things we thought we just had to have end up on a shelf doing little more than taking up space and collecting dust!
A true Christian will never let himself be pressured into ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in a material way. He knows that true worth is measured, not in what one has, but in what one is. There is no doubt in his mind about what it takes to make a person happy—truly happy: enjoying a fine relationship with Jehovah and keeping busy in His service.
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Material things alone can never bring lasting happiness
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The Bible says: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need”