Saturday, April 10, 2010

NYT: What really makes people happy?

New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks used the recent events of Sandra Bullock's life to present and discuss some studies on what makes people happy.

He goes over a number of studies and numbers, the conclusions of which are fairly consistent: marriage, families, and relationships make people happier than money or material success. He suggests this is due to the increased depth in relationships versus the shallowness of the mere accumulation of wealth. He further suggests that we tend to focus on the wrong things: success and money rather than cultivation of deep interpersonal relationships, the thing that will really make us happy.

It certainly is hard to argue with the statistics and conclusions Brooks presents. It seems that they give confirmation to the Biblical principle expressed by Jesus:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and destroy." - Matt. 6:19

A little later in chapter 6 of Matthew we find that this treasure Jesus is referring to is money. He commands us not to "lay it up for ourselves." So we are not to focus our efforts on working for money. The reason Jesus gives is because money is so frail and fragile. It is so easily lost. In his context He's probably referring to some precious stones etc. that moth and rust could destroy. Even in the case of the paper money of our times or the online bank accounts, thieves can break in and destroy. Money does not abide; it lets us down. It does not know us, it does not give us the love that we need to be happy. Having it may make us feel more worthwhile for a time, but it will ultimately fail us.

Relationships on the other hand are a bit different. Another person can know us, another person can love us. We so crave this. We so desire to be really known and loved for who we are. When we receive that from others, it produces a happiness "money can't buy." So surely the things Jesus commands us to lay up for ourselves in opposition to money are relationships, right? Wrong.

"but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." - Matt. 6:20

The problem with relationships is that they too can let us down. Friends betray, marriages end, families fracture, and ultimately everyone dies. Working towards relationships, storing up for ourselves relationships, is again storing up a "treasure on earth," that moth and rust can destroy. Jesus' remedy: store up treasure in heaven. God cannot be destroyed by moth or rust; He is eternal. As such, only He can give us the lasting, eternal love we all so crave. Only he can fully know and love us, perfectly, for all of eternity.

So Brooks' point cannot be disputed: interpersonal relationships will make us happier than money. But in the long run, interpersonal relationships with humans will ultimately fail to provide lasting happiness, true joy. That is only available through a right relationship with God, available to all through Jesus Christ.

"You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." - Psalm 16:11

HT: Aaron Bobuk

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