If you have not heard ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams then I don’t know what planet you have been living on. It’s such a great song and listening to it will make most people feel happier (my daughter has just let me know that she agrees that the song makes you happy). This weekend we are holding our annual fun day at the church and one of the reasons we do this is to give people something to be happy about. We run the event for free as a means of blessing people and its my belief that God blesses us and that we should be a blessing to others.
Happy is a popular song, but statistics would seem to show that we are not a happy country. In an online article, Mark Easton says that:
Antidepressant use has been growing rapidly for decades. In 1991, English pharmacies handed over nine million items. In 2001, it was 24.3 million. Now the number has grown to 46.7 million prescriptions issued – a 9.1% rise on the previous year.
When you plot those figures on a graph the steep upwards trend is concerning and it is worth pausing to consider what the things in our society might be that are causing us to feel so sad. Here are a few thoughts about what some of those factors might be:
All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them. This quote from Walt Disney seems great at first glance. We should want people to achieve great things and to realize their potential but the quote actually says more than that. It implies a promise, that all your dreams can come true if only we try hard enough. Like every other English boy I dreamed that one day I would play football for England but the trouble is I can’t kick a ball and get it to go in the direction I am aiming it. That dream will never come true because I don’t have the skills or talents to make it happen. Lots of people are disappointed in life because their unrealistic dreams didn’t come true. The opposite can also be true, perhaps some people are disappointed because they know they didn’t achieve certain things because they didn’t try hard enough.
Happiness is about having more stuff. Advertising screams at us: ‘You need this’. It tries to convince us that without a particular product we have no importance. Many parents today feel the need to give their children everything they ask for. The logic is that they want to make sure that their children do have everything that they didn’t have when they were growing up. The trouble is that if we bring a child up to believe they can have everything then we are setting them up for a life that will contain misery and disappointment as most people don’t have everything we want.
If you can’t afford it, have it anyway. I am constantly being encouraged to buy now, pay later. This is great if you have a temporary cash flow problem and you know you can pay the debt off before the penalty interest kicks in but if you buy on a whim, this is terrifying. If I need £1000 to buy something and I can’t afford to save up for it by setting a little a aside each month, then how am I going to afford the repayments on the loan? Being in debt is crushing and soul destroying, as you can see in this video not on my watch, from Christians against poverty. It’s ironic that one of the things that is supposed to make us happy, can actually cause some of the greatest amounts of misery.
It’s all about me. We live in a very individualistic society and there can be a temptation to just focus on our own needs. I believe that when we only look inwards that we will ultimately be unhappy but that when we act generously that it can make us feel good. I talked with someone recently who cried a lot in the conversation (I think it was their problems, not me that was causing this) but by the end of our conversation they were crying less. ‘Thank you’ they said, ‘talking really helped’. That made me feel good that I had been able to help in such a simple way. When we live a life with purpose and meaning, we are more likely to find fulfilment and happiness.
Happiness is about sitting doing nothing. Those of you who know me well are going to laugh at this bit as I am the ultimate couch potato. Recently I have exercised more and have eaten more sensibly and I’ve lost some weight and guess what, I am happier. When we sit around a lot and that’s all we do we become lethargic and lethargy (in my experience anyway) will often lead to feelings of sadness. I’m not happier because I’m thinner (I believe our self worth is not defined by our shape) but I am happier being more active. I think that exercise (as long as we rest as well) will help us to feel more positive.
When we are sad, there are many things that can help. Listening to ‘Happy’, probably will make you feel happier and going to events like our fun day will help you feel better. If you agree with any of my points above then happiness can also be found in turning away from those areas. For example by realizing that you don’t need more stuff and trying to simplify the way you live. Friends are also helpful and when we are sad I would encourage us not to try to be by ourselves.
My belief though is that only God can ultimately satisfy. David, who was one of the kings of Israel said:
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord
These words from Psalm 40 v1-3 encourage us that God can pull us out of a pit of despair. In my experience that sometimes happens through the circumstances changing and at other times it is about God giving us a different attitude within the circumstances. In his despair David made a choice to call out to and reach out towards and to trust in God. As he did so, things changed. May we choose to call on God more.