The Costly Pursuit of Happiness
Real, abundant happiness comes not from what you have, but from doing what is right.

What is 5+2? There are certain mathematical laws you must adhere to in order to secure the right answer. No amount of human reasoning can alter the correct, mathematical answer to that problem.

Now consider this “mathematical” equation: a+b = happiness. Though you might not consider it a math problem, the answer is just as simple as 5+2. Like math, you have to apply certain laws and principles before you can secure the right answer—happiness.

Yet so many in this world are dreadfully unhappy. That’s because there is a lot of faulty reasoning involved in figuring the answer to a+b = happiness.

What about you? Are you leading a truly rewarding, abundant and happy life? Is each day even more rewarding and joyous than the one previous? Let us consider the laws that bring about happiness—laws which will enable us to figure the “math” problem correctly.

First, let us look at what happiness is not.

You Cannot Buy Happiness

Money cannot buy happiness. Everyone’s heard that. But no one seems to believe it!

For decades, one wealthy magazine editor asked associates and acquaintances how much money they would need to be happy. He concluded, “No matter what their income, a depressing number of Americans believe that if only they had twice as much, they would inherit the estate of happiness promised them in the Declaration of Independence.” The result of his findings? Nobody ever has enough!

Take the example of the famous writer, Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, which many critics consider to be the best novel ever written.

As a teenager, Tolstoy aspired to be the wisest and most admired man in the world. He also wanted to be the bravest and the strongest. He was a gymnast, a weight-lifter, a wrestler and was known for his brute strength. He served in the army for several years. He bred horses and was a graceful rider. He was a skilled hunter. He was even an accomplished pianist and for a short time considered becoming a composer. He even founded a school for peasant children.

As you might imagine, he was quite popular with the ladies. He fathered 14 children and was married twice.

On top of all that, he was born rich and lived on a several-thousand-acre estate. He dressed with elegance and was in good shape.

However, Tolstoy looked down on those who were of a lower class. He frequently got drunk, gambled away piles of money and spent many a night with indecent women.

Still, he wrote one of the greatest novels in the history of man.

Did Tolstoy live a truly happy and abundant life? Did he die satisfied with all he had accomplished? Perhaps surprising is the answer: no! In the end, all of this energy and great accomplishment brought him very little enjoyment and even great pain.

Finding that his possessions did not make him happy, he turned to religion and—out of guilt—gave away much of what he had. He was still miserable.

As his life drew to an end, he was at complete odds with his wife. She was going crazy living with him, and he was going crazy searching for happiness.

Here are a few excerpts from his last few diary entries:

“26 October, 1910: I’m very depressed in this madhouse.

“27 October: The burden of our relations is getting worse.

“28 October: Day and night all my movements and words have to be known to her and to be under her control …. I don’t know why, but this aroused indignation and uncontrollable revulsion in me …. I couldn’t go on lying there, and suddenly I took the final decision to leave.”

With that, Tolstoy departed from his home in the middle of the night and died a few days later in a train station. His dying request was that his wife not be permitted to see him.

His last journal entry: “3 November: Here is my plan. Do what you must, come what may. And all is for the good of others and above all for me.”

It was the unhappiest of endings you could imagine for a life so full of possessions and popularity.

The pages of history are loaded with examples like Tolstoy—those who acquired abundant material gain before dying utterly unhappy.

Yet an even more graphic example of this is recorded in the book almost everyone owns—the Bible.

Solomon was one of the wealthiest men ever to live. He set out to find happiness through pleasures and goods (Ecclesiastes 2:1). He owned more land, more homes, more slaves, and more gold than anyone who lived during his day, and maybe even since that time! He would certainly give Donald Trump and Bill Gates a run for their money. In addition to the physical wealth, he also had close to a thousand concubines and wives.

If he didn’t have it, and he wanted it, he went out and got it. “Whatever my eyes desired,” he said, “I did not keep from them” (verse 10). Yet, what was his reward? Did he end up with happiness?

“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (verse 11; Moffatt translation).

If ever there was an example to prove that money does not buy happiness, this is it! Yet how many of us still fall for this age-old trap. Well, I know Solomon wasn’t happy, you might reason. But if I just had what Solomon did, I would be different. I would be happy. In no pursuit do people more thoroughly deceive themselves than in pursuing happiness.

Living Richly

People living now are, on the average, four and a half times richer than those who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. The increased income enables us to purchase plenty of goods.

Homes that used to have one television now have three or four. Driveways that used to park one automobile now have three or four. Over the course of a normal day, most people come into contact with dozens upon dozens of gadgets designed to make life easier.

In fact, according to one study, if you measure in constant dollars, the amount of goods and services we have consumed in the world since 1950 is equal to that consumed by all the previous generations put together! There can be no doubt that human beings, especially those of the past 50 years, consume a lot!

Yet, at the same time we find ourselves in the midst of material prosperity, appalling evils like poverty, murder, rape, robbery, suicide, abortion and child abuse are escalating at a pace equal to our appetite for materialistic consumption.

Could the Two Trends Possibly Be Connected?

The Bible says they are very much connected! But most people consider the Bible to be old and archaic—not up to date with modern society. That’s because they would rather not apply its instruction in the happiness equation. Yet its instruction is the only information that will enable us to reach the right answer.

Again, there is a way, a formula, an equation to genuine happiness and truly abundant living. But if we are to find it, we must first recognize that this world along with the things of this world do not figure into the equation. That doesn’t make the acquisition of material goods wrong. It just does not, by itself, bring happiness.

For 6,000 years, man has been pursuing happiness in the way that seems right in his own eyes (Proverbs 14:12). Yet look at what it has produced, or, in the case of happiness, not produced. Man’s formula for happy, abundant living has failed. It has secured the wrong answer: unhappiness. Let’s turn to God, our Maker, to find out how to work the math problem correctly.

The Equation

Notice the example of Cain and Abel, recorded in some of the first chapters of the Bible. In Genesis 4, we read that Cain and Abel brought offerings before God. God was pleased with Abel’s generous giving, but not with Cain’s selfish offering. The Amplified Version translates the last part of verse 5, “So Cain was exceedingly angry and indignant, and he looked sad and depressed.”

In verse 6, God asks Cain the all-important question: “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?” In other words, why are you so unhappy? Good question! Solomon should have asked this of himself.

God answers Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, and you must master it” (verse 7, Amplified version). Again, the word “do” indicates action. After asking Cain why he wasn’t happy, in effect, God said, “If you do well, you’ll be happy!” Moffatt translates this verse even better: “If your heart is honest, you would surely look bright? If you are sullen, sin is lying in wait for you, eager to be at you—yet you ought to master it.”

There is a cause for every effect! If you are unhappy, there is a reason. Cain was miserably unhappy—so much so that he eventually murdered his brother (verse 8). Why? Because Cain wasn’t doing what was right. He was too attached to his physical possessions—his finest animals. He thought that keeping those instead of offering them to God would give him more happiness. But it brought him just the opposite. Additionally, he was overcome with guilt and shame because his brother was doing right!

Here is the key variable which must be included in our happiness equation. Real, abundant happiness comes not from what you have, but from doing what is right—and not doing what is right in your own eyes, but what is right in God’s eyes. If you have that as your main focus in life, you are guaranteed to have super-abundant joy and happiness.

The key to this happy living is just as simple and straightforward as figuring the answer to 5+2. But that’s just it. It’s so simple that most people do not recognize it. They think it’s something much bigger and far more complicated. It’s not.

Happiness is a way of thinking. It’s a condition of the mind. It comes as a result of doing what’s right. That means action. It means making your life one that is useful, successful and concerned first with growing in the knowledge of God’s unselfish love.

To guide us in our spiritual journey, God has given us rules, or laws, which govern happy, abundant living much like scientific laws govern mathematics. God set those laws in motion so that we might be happy.

Did you realize that God has never given one command against something unless that act brings harm and unhappiness? God’s laws and rules are there to preserve happiness and joy, not take it away.

God’s law only prohibits those things which bring unhappiness and pain. Of course, if you do those things God forbids, you may get a little fleshly thrill or a temporary kick out of it. Hebrews 11:25 shows that sin may be pleasurable for a short while. But there is always a boomerang effect! Just ask Solomon or Leo Tolstoy!

Is the Good Life Boring?

There are those who live like Solomon or Tolstoy, who just consume and consume—and still never find happiness.

On the other hand, though, there are those who believe that living a “religious” life means giving up all the fun and enjoyment that life has to offer. Tolstoy tried both extremes: He had it all and was miserable; so he gave it all up and was miserable.

Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). That’s what God and Christ want for us—happy, abundant living, now and in the world to come.

Yet, this world would have you believe that lasting happiness comes from consuming material goods and services. But that is pitifully shallow thinking. What good will all the things in the world do for us if our marriages are ripped apart by divorce, we raise disobedient, unhappy children, and we never get to know our Maker and the purpose for which we were created?

The Apostle Paul taught that if we place all of our hopes, dreams and desires in this material life, we will not be happy (1 Corinthians 15:19). That is a law. Paul also said that the “love of money” is a root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). This doesn’t mean that money is a root of evil—it’s the love of money—placing material pursuits above God. That is the root cause of evil, unhappy living.

Solomon eventually repented and turned back to God at the end of his life, and he recorded some valuable lessons in the book of Ecclesiastes. He concluded the book with instruction we would all do well to remember and apply: “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The world has been flooded with books and instruction on how to attain happy, abundant living. Yet Solomon finally realized that the key to happiness was much simpler than man likes to believe. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (verse 13).

Your duty, and mine, is to do what is right, not what we feel like doing. If you stand to lose friends, money or prestige because you are doing what is right, do not worry or grow uneasy. Just do what is right—and you will be happy! You won’t be in for the years and years of heartache and misery that Tolstoy and many others like him had to endure. That does not mean you will never experience a trial or an obstacle to overcome. But on the inside, in your mind’s eye, you will have the inner peace and happiness for which all people seek.

“For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (verse 14). God holds you responsible for what you know, or, in this case, for what you read! How many have read these truths only to set it aside without acting because of certain fears or worries about what might happen at school or with friends if you committed your life into God’s hands?

God created you to act—to always move forward and acquire knowledge and apply it to your life. He expects you to move forward physically and spiritually, placing greater importance on the latter.

That is precisely why so many are leading unhappy and unfulfilled lives today. They have left God and His knowledge out of their lives, and, because of that, though they may find a certain amount of material success, they wander through life searching for some sort of spiritual foundation. God created us to need more than just material knowledge!

Most in this world think happiness can be consumed or bought, if you only had enough. The statistics shout back, that’s not true! That’s why you see so many materially successful people searching for spiritual comfort.

Happiness is a process. Benjamin Franklin said, “Happiness is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by the little advantages that occur every day.” It’s a process that begins with the decisions you make each day. Living right is what brings happiness.

Learn the lesson mankind has failed to learn for 6,000 years and then apply these principles to your own life. Apply God’s simple, scientific laws to your life to see for yourself how they produce joy in abundance. Only then will your cup truly overflow with the happiness for which so many are searching.