110 Bridge, Fredrikstad, Norway
As humans, we all want to live happy contented lives. I know I do. And most of us don’t require a lot of luxuries, and things, and experiences. Most of us are content with a modest income, a decent place to live, a couple of cars, and family to go through life with. Why is it that even people who find themselves in these average conditions are often unable to have ordinary “happiness” live with them day in and day out? Happiness seems to come and go even while our conditions of life remain fairly stable. Even people that I have known who are wealthy seem no happier than anyone else. Could it be that the seemingly universal desire for happiness might just be a human dream to extract from life what it just wasn’t designed to give?
I thought about this a lot starting with my first major job working for the CIA, and living in Virginia. I was happy enough, but it was not that idyllic happiness that I had hoped for before I moved there. Some days were really good and other days were a dud. I thought “Why is this?”, when I had everything I needed except for a wife. I went back to California looking for more. I began a new career teaching, married, had a couple of children, and settled in a house in the country on over an acre of land. Overall, I was definitely happier than I was back East, but my level of happiness still went up and down. It seemed like little things going wrong could make me feel down, while little unexpected perks brought me way up. It started to dawn on me that externals in my life were what caused the variability. No matter how hard I tried to keep the “down producing” externals out of my life, the more that seemed to pop up to take their place. The search to regulate my happiness this way started to make even the dependable pick-me-ups fade in intensity. And at this time I was living a great life, and had practically everything that I had ever wanted.
What I began to realize was that the kind of happy life that I was looking for was just not available on earth, but it was available in a place that I hadn’t seriously considered. A backpacking trip to the mountains in the year 2000 with my four oldest kids at home served to crystalize my thinking. I planned to bring with me 2 sons and 2 daughters ranging from 10 to 18 years in age, and be gone for four days and three nights. The preparations went well and everything was ready to go the morning of the trip–then disaster struck! The private well at our house was not producing water and it turned out that the submersible pump was burned out and had to be replaced–an all day effort it turned out. I resigned myself to postponing the trip and we left the next morning, with me trying not to let this glitch in my plans get me angry. We drove to the trailhead at Wishon Reservoir at about 6,500 ft. and began hiking in the morning. It was kind of slow going and a lot more uphill climbing than I had anticipated, but we soldiered on. I estimated that it was a total of 10 to 11 miles to our destination, Halfmoon Lake, but as the sun was beginning to get noticeably lower in the sky, I started becoming concerned. A quick look at the map showed that we were only about halfway there. I hated these kinds of situations, and my frustration inside was starting to get to me. We soon came to a fork in the trail, and an alternate destination called Woodchuck Lake looked on the map like it was about 2 miles away, at about 10,000 ft. I told the kids that it would become our new destination. They were all glad. We headed up that way, but we were all so tired that we had to go slowly. In not too long, the sun was starting to get pretty low and my two girls were starting to cry. I told them to take a break to rest, and that I would go ahead to find the lake with one of my sons and come back to get them. It was only a half mile away, and we all finally made it there and camped at about sundown. The final trial hit me when I found that we had to boil the water from the lake before drinking it because it had a bunch of mosquito larvae swimming in it. I resigned myself to just survive the trip, and be glad when the four days were over and we were on our way home.
But, surprisingly, when I gave up my expectations for a great trip, everything started to go well. Waking up the next morning was like entering a whole new world full of brightness and hope. We all had a great time the entire trip, especially playing on the long sandy beach on the north side of the lake. Everyone was happy, including me, and I could hardly believe how things turned out. In retrospect, it turned out to be one of the best trips we ever went on. From that point on I was finally convinced that the illusive happiness that I was searching for was not found in outside circumstances, but rather was found inside myself. It was my attitude.
I learned over the years that life has its ups and downs no matter what we try to do about it. God made life so that we all have to struggle and suffer from time to time. This is because struggling is the primary situation in life that we have the opportunity to grow into better people who see our vulnerabilities. This humbles us and allows us to take our place alongside other strugglers, helping us to see ourselves as not so much better than others as we might have previously thought. This paves the way for honest interactions with other people, a true appreciation of their value, and ultimately culminating in genuine love. This true love for all is undoubtedly the most important goal in life that we could be working for. When we see ourselves as we are, we can finally see others as just as important and valuable as we are.
Happiness, I learned, comes from accepting difficult and stressful things that come our way, while also fully enjoying the good things as well. Underlying all this should be a joy in simply being alive, and a thankfulness and appreciation for each day that God gives to us. I learned to be happy in life by deciding to be happy each day despite whether it turned out good or bad. If you let various circumstances that you encounter in life dictate your happiness, then you’ve given them too much power over you. Your happiness on earth should be sustained by taking a continuing joy in being alive, while also looking forward to unending bliss with God in heaven after we die. I’ve been doing it for many years–it works!
Use these scripture verses from James 1, 2-4, to help you travel the paths of life: “My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested, this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing.”