The Secret to Real Happiness
We want whatever we do not have. As a kid, I would look forward to trips out of town because that usually meant that we would be driving on an interstate. And that usually meant we would have at least one meal on the road—at a Cracker Barrel! Now, I love my hometown, but for much of my life you had to leave Columbus if you wanted biscuits, cornbread, and Momma’s Pancake Breakfast.
For many years, I only knew one thing about Opelika, Alabama—well, two things: (1) Johnny Cash mentions Opelika in the song, “I’ve Been Everywhere Man,” and (2) the closest Cracker Barrel to Columbus was in Opelika. When they finally built a Cracker Barrel in my town, you know what I said? “I sure wish we had a Five Guys here.” I was wanting what I did not have!
Growing up, my family used to receive a copy of the Service Merchandise catalog every year in the fall. I loved getting to flip through that catalog and create my Christmas wish list of toys, games, and sporting goods. (You know what gift catalogs are, right? They are photo albums all the stuff you don’t have! And we want whatever we do not have.)
Despite all we have, there is a continual gravitational pull within us towards discontentment. We hunger for more and are never satisfied by what we have. That discontentment can lead to anger, bitterness, emptiness, depression, or despair. Truly, discontentment is the first-world problem.
We complain about the annoyances and inconveniences of modern life and jokingly tag them as #firstworldproblems. But our jokes reveal a dark truth: all our worldly wealth, success, excess—all our secular intelligence, science, and technology—all our human attempts to alleviate all of life’s problems—have left us unsatisfied, discontent, and empty.
The wealthiest man in human history, Solomon, wrote about this very problem in Ecclesiastes. He was king over Israel during the height of its dominance on the Mediterranean world scene. But even with all his wealth, authority, comforts, and pleasures, Solomon concluded that all of it was empty and meaningless, like “chasing after the wind.”
We, in the Global West, live in a modern-day version of Solomon’s Ecclesiastes. We have more wealth, opportunity, education, health care, life-span, technology, science, accessibility, connectivity, entertainment, comfort, and forms of pleasure than any other age in human history. And yet, numerous studies in the last decade have shown that people in the West are more discontent, angry, depressed, and disillusioned with their lives than ever before.
There is one antidote to discontentment—giving thanks. When we give thanks, we confess that God is enough. When my soul is satisfied in God, I am content. That is the principle of Psalm 23, that despite the circumstances of my life, whether good or bad, in seasons of plenty or lack, peace or strife, my soul finds contentment in God alone.
The pathway, the avenue, the conduit through which we make this life-transforming discovery is the act of giving thanks. As long as we focus on what we do not have, then we will never have enough. We will never be satisfied. But if we focus on the all-sufficiency of God, then even in our lack we will find contentment. Because our satisfaction will not be in what we have, it will be in who He is, and in who we are in Him.