What makes you happy?
In our Ecclesiastes series, we have talked about how a lot of things we seek after—money, dating relationships, success—don’t actually make you happy. That seems, especially in our culture, to be a rather counter-cultural idea, and maybe even something that you have to take on faith.
That includes modern scientific research, as a friend pointed out. Some examples of recent research findings related to happiness:
Being rich won’t make you happier. Being poor won’t make you happier, either, but past a certain income (which falls somewhere in the middle class) more money does not result in more happiness. What this means is that someone with a household income of $75,000 is just as happy on any given day as someone who makes $1 million a year. Of course, uber-rich Solomon knew this firsthand (Ecclesiastes 5:10-13).
Having more stuff won’t make you happier. We live in a consumer society, but it’s been shown repeatedly that consumption doesn’t make you happy. For example, one study followed people who received a large bonus (about $5,000) and found that spending the money on themselves had no impact on happiness. (Spending money on others, or giving it to charity, did make them happier.) Solomon, who could afford anything and denied himself nothing his heart desired (Ecclesiastes 2:10), found no lasting joy or meaning in any of it.
Being married won’t make you happier. At least not long-term. I know most people at The Porch are single, and most really wish they weren’t. But many who are married wish they were still single. Researchers have found that marriage does tend to make you happy for a year or two, but after that married people are no happier than the unmarried. For me, the honeymoon period lasted only one year, and after that I was miserable in marriage (by God’s grace and some hard work, it’s gotten much better). Don’t think marriage is a cure-all; it’s kind of the opposite. Solomon had 700 wives, and then wrote Ecclesiastes.
You could continue that list with almost anything—I’ll finally be happy when I get x worldly thing—and be wrong pretty much every time. That’s because of a principle called hedonic adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill: the tendency we all have to quickly get used to any new thing and still be left wanting more. It’s why that new job that we’ve wanted for so long soon becomes that old job that we hate, and why that awesome $600 smartphone becomes lame once a new model comes out.
Really, we know all this to be true. However, it is like being in love with someone who we know is no good for us: we are tempted to pursue it anyways.