Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Deadliest Attack on Happiness

Author Trent Hand lists what he believes are the deadliest attacks on happiness:

1.   Comparing yourself to others
2.   Talking about your dreams instead of going to work on them
3.   Listening to people with nothing positive to say
4.   Focusing on the news
5.   Deciding someone else needs to change
6.   Thinking “happiness” is a destination you can reach
7.   Forgetting to say “thank you”

Clearing negative influences out of our lives does have a certain utility.

It will undoubtedly make us feel better than if we indulge in envy of others, live in a fairyland of “what might be” and surround ourselves with yentas or whiners. Grateful people indisputably are happier than people who are unable to appreciate anything they receive (though we might argue which is cause and which is effect). And I have certainly found a direct connection between the amount of TV news I consume and the amount of distress I feel about the moral, economic, political and religious condition of our disintegrating society. Getting rid of my TV has increased my productivity and general sense of well-being, no argument there.

But you could just as easily make the case that sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and singing “la la la la” at the top of one’s lungs doesn’t actually fix anything.

And you’d be right. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that you could perfectly and completely follow all of the very reasonable suggestions offered by Mr. Hand and still find yourself miserably unhappy; that they fall far short of addressing the core issues of human need.

*   *   *   *   *

‘Blessed’ is a religious word, but it’s not a complicated idea. In the New Testament, it is simply a translation of a Greek word that means enviable, fortunate (if you excise its inevitable associations with randomness, luck or fate and substitute God instead) or favoured (which might be a better way to read “fortunate”).

Most of the time, the best translation of ‘blessed’ is just plain old ‘happy’.

In Acts 3, we read of a man being healed through the apostles Peter and John at the temple in Jerusalem. The man was a beggar, lame from birth, who held his hand out hoping for a few shekels as the apostles passed. Peter, wanting to do something for him but having no money, said to him “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” and took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet. And, for the first time in his life, the man’s ankles actually held him up.

That man didn’t just walk into the temple with Peter and John; he entered that building leaping and praising God, overwhelmed with happiness. We’re told he clung to Peter and John. It sounds like he was absolutely giddy, half delirious with joy.

Everybody knew this man. He had been sitting at that particular temple gate daily for who knows how long. Maybe his whole life. So of course when they saw him doing the impossible and leaping his way through the temple, a crowd gathered. Peter felt the impulse to do a bit of spontaneous preaching.

His message, if you read it, is what we nowadays refer to as a ‘buzzkill’.

Peter points out first of all that the power to heal this man has not come from him or from John; it is the name of Jesus Christ that has the power to heal. The name of Christ has that sort of power, Peter declares, because its owner has been raised from the dead, has ascended into heaven and has been glorified by God.

Then comes the buzzkill, the accusations: “YOU delivered and denied him”, “YOU asked for a murderer to be granted to you” and “YOU killed the author of life”. It is a message true of all of the Jews: some physically delivered him up; some directly engineered his killing by the Romans; some asked for a murderer to be granted to them instead of the Lord; but ALL of them denied him, an accusation Peter makes twice.

It is the sort of message that, had it been delivered without the accompanying miracle to authenticate it, might well have resulted in a crowd of self-righteous and irate Jews beating or even killing Peter and John, instead of their mere arrest by the priests and Sadducees.

But before the captain of the temple gets through the crowd to them to haul them away, Peter has something to say about happiness. He says God is offering blessing to the very Jews who put to death his own son:
“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
(Acts 3:26)
Happiness, Peter says, is a direct result of turning away from wickedness, specifically the wickedness of denying and rejecting Jesus Christ. Their wickedness was their failure to recognize him for who he really was and to respond accordingly.

God sent him to you, Peter says, to make you happy.

*   *   *   *   *

So you see the where Trent Hand’s recipe for finding happiness (or, really, merely reducing the symptoms of obvious unhappiness) falls more than a little bit short, right?

Almost 2,000 years after the events recorded for us in the book of Acts, the fundamental underlying cause of unhappiness in humanity is not the symptoms of ungratefulness, envy, unfulfilled potential, negativity or fear of the future, but rather its ongoing, persistent rejection of Jesus Christ.
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
(Acts 3:19)
Address that issue, and the happiness problem is solved once and for all.

The deadliest attack on happiness is the denial of Jesus Christ.


  1. Here is an example of such an attack made in the Huffington Post. This is a link sent to me by someone who thought it would be of interest to me because I am blogging here (I generally don't read the Huffington Post). It is a very typical opinion piece that there is no historical basis for the historical Christ and that he is just one more mythological figure.

    What else do you expect from the Huffington Post, the bastion of the atheist left. It’s unfortunate that my country (USA), and probably the world, is trending in that direction, especially our current president. These types of people, have made this erroneous argument for the longest time.

    The next link, below, that I dug up, is about a book written by a historian, instead of by a journalist, that contravenes the journalistic argument in the above link.

    This is what one has to contend with. We all have to place our bets with the highest probability (like we have to do with any bit of direct or transmitted knowledge), and the historian here wins out.

    1. Nice pair of articles, Q. There are lots of these on both sides. To accept any of them as the definitive answer is an exercise in faith. You trust HuffPo, or you trust your historian. Either or both could be wrong, but either way, they're still men at very best.

      Or, alternatively, you trust the Bible's statements about itself. Perhaps that is harder when you're fifteen or twenty; I can't remember, to be honest. I do know that living another 30 years, you see the journalists, the scientists, the historians and the experts disproved, proven to be frauds, incompetents or conjecturing on the basis of incomplete evidence over and over again. Their stories shifts like a mirage.

      But my Bible still says the same thing it always said. And my questions about details like the ones in the HuffPo article fall into the category IC describes in his 'Big Questions' post. Add to that my personal experience with the Lord, hearing his voice in his word, speaking to him daily, watching him move the pieces around in my life ...

      At a certain point it is no longer playing the odds. It's certainty. But you can't explain that to the Huffington Post, can you.

    2. Well, here is what can happen if you get sloppy (as I will occasionally :-).

      My latest correspondence with my trusted sources went like this.

      Hi dad,
      Regarding the link you sent with the NPR interview of the author and well-know Jesus scholar who wrote the book "did Jesus exist"... Did you even listen to the interview? He's a former Christian now self admitted agnostic who admits Jesus existed (but in not so many words) he says he was basically just a nice guy with moral teachings that are good to live by. Interesting. I was taught in college that this is the same perception that the Jews hold of Jesus as well.

      My reply:

      You are right, I just read the text. But in my mind even that is OK, Jesus existed, you should live by his moral teaching, case made. The rest is up to you, and the world would be a better place if everybody did that..

    3. I am amused to read stuff like this from Wikipedia (under their "Jesus" entry): "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed historically". In other words, if we worry about what "authorities" are saying, the ones who say Jesus DIDN'T exist are currently out of vogue.

      Which means, to other historians, the ones like your HuffPo guy presently have a similar level of credibility to that which climate change deniers currently enjoy with "the scientific consensus".

      I'm not worried about the changing tides of educated opinion in the slightest, but my point is you can find someone to reinforce whatever worldview you want to take.

      But I find the written word of God is in a different class altogether from that of educated opinion, pro or con.