In late March the United Nations released its annual World Happiness Report. Other than finding where the good ole U.S. of A ranks on the list (14th overall this year, up from 19th last year) I’ve never paid a lot of attention. But for some reason unknown to myself, I have thought about it much more this time around. I don’t put a ton of stock into the reports as they are comprised of simple subjective surveys, however, I am surprised at where the United States ranks in overall “happiness”.
This is not going to be a deep dive into the report itself. If you want more information on the methodology of compiling and indexing the data, knock yourself out here: https://worldhappiness.report/
Instead, I’m going to focus more on things here at home. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the fact that we are the 14th “happiest” country in the world is absolutely mind-boggling. I think it is more of an indictment on our contentment (or lack thereof) than a reflection of our temporal situation here in the greatest country in the world. Quite frankly, we are a bunch of spoiled brats.
As it turns out, money in fact does not buy happiness, nor can it rent it. The United States boasts the highest net wealth in the world. We have the most millionaires and billionaires in the world. Median household income in the U.S. is about 6.5 times the worldwide median income of about $10k. The poverty line in our country is higher than that. The average American is in the top 1% of income worldwide, so globally speaking, you are the 1%! It may be hard to believe because we can all point to neighbors, friends, and co-workers who are doing “better” than us, but we do not have an income problem. What we do with that income is a different story. Finances are still the second leading cause for divorce, but is it the money’s fault?
What about freedom? You may debate that your rights are being infringed upon, but you at least have the freedom to debate that. Sure the political landscape is as volatile as ever, but if our happiness is resting on elected officials we need to recalibrate. The last I checked, we still live in a free country. We have more opportunities than arguably any other society in the history of the world. So, lack of freedom can’t be the reason that we are unhappy. Our country was built on the right to pursue happiness after all. We have the right to worship freely without persecution. And no, I do not count people on Facebook making fun of your beliefs as persecution. Shouldn’t Christians in the United States be the happiest of all people?
We certainly can’t complain about creature comforts here in the United States. We all walk around with more processing power in our pockets than the NASA computers that landed us on the moon. We can fly from coast to coast in about 5 hours. We flip a switch and instantly have light. We flush a toilet and… well you know. We are the most comfortable people in the history of the world. Our dogs have it better than most people on the globe.
No, our problem goes much deeper. I’m not pointing to the rest of the world as having it all figured out. The rest of the world is after all full of people, like us. What we have is a contentment problem. You could argue that no matter how good we have it, we will never be satisfied. When asked how much money is enough, well-known business tycoon John D. Rockefeller responded with “just a little more”.
So, are we never satisfied? I would argue that we are too easily satisfied. We spend our lives chasing money, houses, cars, boats, and experiences. Maybe you’re not as materialistic as everyone else. Maybe your desires are more noble. You strive for the perfect marriage, the perfect family, the most fulfilling career. But these things all have an expiration date. These things all pass away, yet we spend our entire lives pursuing them. I fear we are missing the big picture. We chase the here and now and ignore the eternal.
You were created to pursue happiness, but the human heart is an idol factory. We search for happiness in the creation instead of the Creator. We find ways to turn our blessings into curses. If you are not happy, it’s not because of your financial situation, or your job, or your family. It’s not even your health or your physical comfort. Your discontentment with them is just a symptom of a much deadlier disease. I’m writing to myself as much as anyone else reading this. I too suffer from discontentment, and envy, and an idolatrous heart.
Happiness cannot and will not be found in any temporal thing. It’s not found on a healthy bank statement, in the best of creature comforts, or even in personal liberties and freedom. I’m not saying that these things are bad and that they shouldn’t be pursued. I’m certainly not letting anyone off the hook and encouraging reckless finances. What you do with your finances has something to say about where your treasure is stored. However, the pursuit of temporal blessings must not become an idol.
In light of Resurrection Sunday, I am reminded of the source of my happiness. I have to remind myself every day. Why search anywhere else? When considering your happiness, don’t be fooled by what the world advertises as the good life. It’s an imperfect, dim reflection of true happiness found in Christ. True happiness comes from true debt forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins, and a right standing with God, through the death of Christ. Happiness comes from deliverance from death into life through the resurrection of Christ. Brothers and sisters, do not be easily satisfied with things that pass away. Be happy.