Aristotle proposed that there are four levels of happiness:
1. Happiness from a Thing:
People are happy when they acquire new material goods, whether that's a new purse, new shoes, or anything else you desire. It may bring short-lived happiness, but months down the road you are probably not going to have the same level of happiness over that particular item. The shoes get moved to the back of the closet and you start wanting another pair, unsatisfied until you get it.
2. Happiness from Comparative Advantage:
Some people get happy from comparing themselves to others. "I have more ____ than Megan." or "I have a better _____ than Andrew." This kind of thing might lead to some happiness, but it also leads to competition and it can create unhappiness and a sense of worthlessness if you fail to measure up to what others have.
3. Happiness from Seeing Good in Others and Doing Good for Them:
This seems like it should be a good thing. However, happiness derived from doing good for others is also short-lived. If we derive our happiness solely from helping a spouse throughout their life, we will gain a lot of happiness, but once they die we'll be left empty because our happiness came from doing good things for them.
4. Happiness from Union with God:
This is what we should all be striving for. The joy and peace we get from a union with God is beyond what anything else can give us, and it is much longer lasting. We can have happiness from all of the above things and still not be satisfied. As Saint Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until we rest in you."
There are sadly so many things in this world that can distract us and cause us to have a poor relationship with God. The world glorifies things like material goods, success, and good looks. James says in 4:4: "Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God." James compares people who love the world to those who are unfaithful in a marital relationship. When we love the world, we are trying to fulfill our need for love and intimacy outside of our relationship with God. That could have a huge impact on our prayer life, our sense of peace during the hard times in life, and our ability to listen to God and discern his will. Also, I don't know about you, but I think that it is really scary to be considered an enemy of God if you love the world. I think the terms "adulterer" and "enemy" show just how bad it is to love the things of this world.
God wants us to be faithful and true to him alone. One of God's commandments is to not have any gods before him. God says "I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their Father's wickedness on the children of those who hate me." - Exodus 20:5. God's jealousy is very different from the envy that we as humans sometimes have. Jeff Cavins says God's jealousy is "his intense pursuit of our good." God loves us so much and "he longs for our undivided faithfulness, love, and devotion in return" because we have a covenant relationship with him.
If we have struggled with seeking happiness from the wrong things, how can we best restore our relationship with God? James says in 4:7-10, "So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you." Let's take a closer look at those things:
1. Submit to God: We have to remember how wonderful, big and powerful God is. We must exalt him and remember how exalting the world or ourselves above him is what got us into trouble in the first place. Job 22:21 says "Submit to God and be at peace with him. In this shall good come to you." We can start by just saying a simple prayer, such as "Lord, I submit myself to you." Also, part of this goes back to to James 1:19, where he says we must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. We need to spend more time listening to God in order to submit to him.
2. Resist the Devil: We need to keep in mind that the Devil is everywhere in this world, constantly attacking us and trying to draw us away from God. We can use Jesus as an example. As I mentioned in a previous post on James, Jesus was tested in the wilderness by Satan and he used Scripture to resist the temptations. We too can recite Bible verses during times of temptation. We also must spend more time in prayer to defeat the Devil.
3. Draw near to God: We can do this in many different ways: prayer, meditation, worship, mass, adoration, devotions, etc. As James said, if we draw near to him, He will draw near to us.
4. Cleanse our hands and purify our hearts: Jeff Cavins said we become defiled by the world when we share the view of our world. Our society's values are that we must seek our own happiness regardless of the cost, comfort is better than sacrifice, and entertainment is better than the dignity of the human person. We have to fight against falling into these beliefs and remember that our time on this earth is short and there are so many more wonderful things in store in the future if we can keep our hearts pure and stick close to God.
5. "Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep": Now, at first glance it seems odd that James is instructing us to let our laughter be turned to mourning. Isn't that contradictory to what we hear in the Bible about being joyful? However, It makes sense when we think about it instructing us to repent for putting things above God. We must be wholeheartedly sorry for our sins and turn away from them.
6. Humble yourself before God:
Both James and Peter say that God will exalt us if we are humble: "So humble yourselves under the might hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him before he cares for you. Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings." - 1 Peter 5:6-9. Humility helps to remind us of our great need for God and to properly assess who we are.
I think it's really wise to take some time to reflect on what is currently making us happy in our lives. Are we really and truly happy because of our relationship God? Or is their something else in our lives that seems to be causing us greater fulfillment and joy? Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not saying it's a bad thing to get some enjoyment out of the things in the world. I really enjoy shopping! I'm also not saying that it's wrong to gain happiness from taking care of your spouse and children. It definitely makes me happy to cook my husband dinner and do things for him. I just think we need to really assess our priorities and make sure that the true source of our happiness is God. Here's a good question to ask yourself, and I can't remember where I heard this from and I can't find it anywhere online, but I think it's worth thinking about. - If you could have everything in heaven you have ever wanted on this earth (live anywhere you wanted, have all your favorite foods, top notch wardrobe, or whatever it might be), and God was not present, would you be happy and okay with staying there for eternity?
"You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
-1 John 4"4
This blog post is based on the Bible Study James: Pearls for Wise Living by Jeff Cavins. Here are my previous posts based on this study: