ANGER, anxiety, and depression have long been the subject of scientific investigation. In recent years, however, leading scientists have been focusing their research on a positive and desirable human experience—happiness.
What might make people happier? If they were younger, richer, healthier, taller, or thinner? What is the key to genuine happiness? Most people find it difficult, if not impossible, to answer that question. Considering the widespread failure to find happiness, perhaps some would find it much easier to answer what is not the key to happiness.
For a long time, leading psychologists recommended a self-oriented philosophy as the key to happiness. They encouraged unhappy people to focus exclusively on satisfying their individual needs. Catchy phrases such as “be yourself,” “get in touch with yourself,” and “discover yourself” have been used in psychotherapy. Yet, some of the very experts who promoted this mentality now agree that such an individualistic attitude does not bring lasting happiness. Egoism will inevitably bring pain and unhappiness. Selfishness is not the key to happiness.
The Key to Unhappiness
Those who look to find happiness in the pursuit of pleasure are looking in the wrong place. Consider the example of wise King Solomon of ancient Israel. In the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, he explains: “Anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them. I did not hold back my heart from any sort of rejoicing, for my heart was joyful because of all my hard work, and this came to be my portion from all my hard work.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10) Solomon built houses for himself, planted vineyards, and made gardens, parks, and pools of water for himself. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6) He once asked: “Who eats and who drinks better than I do?” (Ecclesiastes 2:25) He was entertained by the best singers and musicians, and he enjoyed the companionship of the most beautiful women of the land.—Ecclesiastes 2:8.
The point is, Solomon did not hold back when it came to pleasurable activities. What conclusion did he reach after having abundant pleasures in life? He said: “I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing of advantage under the sun.”—Ecclesiastes 2:11.
The findings of the wise king remain accurate to this day. Take for instance a wealthy country like the United States. During the last 30 years, Americans have virtually doubled the number of their material possessions, such as automobiles and televisions. Yet, according to mental-health experts, Americans are not any happier. According to one source, “over the same period, depression rates have soared. Teen suicide has tripled. Divorce rates have doubled.” Researchers have recently reached similar conclusions after studying the correlation between money and happiness among the populations of some 50 different countries. Simply put, you cannot buy happiness.
On the contrary, the pursuit of riches could properly be called the key to unhappiness. The apostle Paul warned: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For 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 6:9, 10.
Neither riches, health, youth, beauty, power, nor any combination of these can guarantee lasting happiness. Why not? Because we do not have the power to prevent bad things from happening. King Solomon aptly noted: “Man also does not know his time. Just like fishes that are being taken in an evil net, and like birds that are being taken in a trap, so the sons of men themselves are being ensnared at a calamitous time, when it falls upon them suddenly.”—Ecclesiastes 9:12.
An Elusive Goal
No amount of scientific research can come up with a man-made formula or strategy for happiness. Solomon also said: “I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor do the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor; because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Many who agree with the above words have concluded that expecting a truly happy life is unrealistic. One prominent educator stated that “happiness is an imaginary condition.” Others believe that the key to happiness is a mysterious secret, that the ability to unravel the secret may be restricted to a few intellectually gifted mystics.
Still, in their search for happiness, people continue to experiment with various life-styles. Despite the failure of their predecessors, many today still pursue riches, power, health, or pleasure as the cure for their unhappiness. The quest goes on because deep inside, most people believe that lasting happiness is not merely an imaginary condition. They hope that happiness is not an elusive dream. You might then ask, ‘How can I find it?’