“If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy.”
Who do you suppose said this? Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Walt Disney? The Kardashians? Not even close. It was French mathematician, scientist, inventor, philosopher and writer Blaise Pascal – and he wrote it in the mid-1600’s. More than 350 years ago – how can that be? They didn’t have cable TV (or even regular TV), smartphone apps, social media, PlayStation or Xbox, adult coloring books, virtual reality goggles, fantasy football – or fidget spinners. What could Pascal or folks back then have known about diversion?
Apparently, the notion that the path to happiness requires escaping the realities and pressures of daily life isn’t new. People were trying to find diversions back in the 17th century, even though they lacked the high-tech gizmos that hold our fascination today. They were taking vacations, pursuing pleasure in various forms, playing games, and cultivating hobbies. But even then, it seems, happiness was elusive.
Throughout history, mankind has explored every means possible for becoming happy. Who knew achieving happiness would be such a laborious endeavor? Even King Solomon, called the wisest man in history, understood this. The pages of the book of Ecclesiastes are filled with his conclusions about the futility of seeking happiness through things or experiences.
Even in the first chapter, Solomon didn’t leave his readers in suspense. “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Don’t you wish the king had expressed how he really felt?
He writes about the pursuits and diversions he attempted in his quest for meaning – and happiness. “I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven…. I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives” (Ecclesiastes 1:13-2:3).
Solomon tells about undertaking challenging projects – building great houses and planting fabulous vineyards, gardens and parks. He worked hard and recorded achievements beyond imagining. You name it, he tried it. There’s not a single diversion he didn’t consider.
It would be worthwhile for you to read Ecclesiastes and the wise king’s observations in their entirety. But – spoiler alert! – here’s how he summarized his pursuit of happiness: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Diversions, Solomon seemed to be saying, may take up time and distract our minds for a while, but ultimately, they steer us away from our purpose, the primary reason we’re here. God created us for us to serve Him, not for Him to serve us.
As Psalm 1:1-2 counsels us, “Blessed (happy) is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Does this mean God is opposed to fun, or uproarious moments that leave us grinning ear to ear? Not at all. If we read the Scriptures with open minds, Old Testaments and New, we find the Lord finds much to amuse Him about the human condition. But as Jesus taught repeatedly, happiness isn’t found in stuff, no matter how much of it you have. It’s not found in status. It’s not even found in human relationships, even though they can provide many happy moments.
Ultimately, true happiness – and joy – are found only in a genuine, growing relationship with the God of all eternity, who desires that it be a relationship that lasts forever.
I like how Corine Gatti, a reporter at Beliefnet, expressed it recently: “Yes, happiness is overrated, depending on the prism you choose to view it through. By digging deeper, we can find the happiness that is not just a pretty word, but an eternal reality.”
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.