Strangely, the Bible suggests that God has a "happiness switch" that He can turn on and off in our lives. One of the wealthiest men who's ever walked the planet said: "God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them" (Eccl. 6:2). You see, happiness comes from God and it operates separately from our circumstances.
Not surprisingly, the scientific research on happiness completely confirms the Bible. Did you know according to The How of Happiness less than 10 percent of happiness comes from circumstantial things like, how much money we have, marital status or where we live? Quite simply, material possessions, jobs or good looks don't affect our overall happiness as much as we like to think.
And, deep down, we know this. After all, every day we read headlines of gorgeous celebrities who get divorced; millionaires who die by suicide. Even more, the Bible is quite clear: "[Our] soul[s] find rest in God alone" (Psalm 62:1).
So how do we know if we believe these happiness myths? Well, simply look at your prayers: Our prayers reveal our pathologies! If your prayer life is dominated by asking God for circumstantial things (like more money, promotions or platforms, etc.), then chances are, you're still believing certain myths about happiness. After all, if happiness comes from God alone, we should be asking for more of Him - not more things.
But it still begs the question: If God is the one in control of the "happiness switch," then WHY would God turn our happiness switch off? Is God simply mean? Does He just "like certain people" and not others?
Not at all! Indeed, it's the exact opposite: God loves us SO much, that He doesn't want us falling deeper into the delusion that these circumstantial things will fulfill us. And if He has to yank a few pleasures in order to awake us to a few pathologies, then, like a good father, it's going to be high on His priority list.
Ironically, when we put God first, it's shocking how happiness changes - and the scientific research also substantiates this! For example, did you know if you go to church on a regular basis, according to a study published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, you are 22 percent less likely to be clinically depressed? If you serve in a weekly ministry at your local church, you're seven times more likely to be happy!
God loves us too much to allow us to continue filling our lives with things other than Him.
Even more "scandalous," people who are "committed to their local churches" are more likely to have orgasms and high levels of sexual satisfaction; they're more likely to manage their lives better and have better time-management; they're more likely to complete degrees and accomplish academic achievements as well as have increased "mental well-being." And to boot, regular church attendees live significantly longer than the general population - at least seven to 14 years longer than nonreligious people! And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In my book, Broken Escalators, I cite dozens of jaw-dropping scientific studies which suggestperhaps Solomon was right all along! When God is first, the happiness switch gets turned on.
So, it begs the question: How do I get God to turn on my "happiness switch?"
Well, it depends on how many idolatrous lies you believe about your own happiness! Psalm 16:4 teaches, "the sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods." God loves us too much to allow us to continue filling our lives with things other than Him. Once again, we often pray for the things we truly believe will fulfill us.
For example, every week I hear prayer requests like: "Lord I want to be married;" which ironically progresses to, "Lord, help me stay married." Then, "Lord, help me have kids." Followed by, "Help me avoid killing my kids!" When you step back and think about it, our "circumstantial prayers" often create an ironic, vicious cycle in which our blessings become our curses! And despite our blessings, we never seem to enjoy them (Ecc. 6).
So stop condemning yourself to a lifestyle of insatiable consumption. The treadmill of elusive circumstantial happiness is cruel. It will hijack your prayer life, arrest your relationship with God and ultimately cause you to miss the fact that happiness is a spiritual problem - not a circumstantial problem. After all, joy isn't a location, it's a position of heart,
Naturally, these insights have fundamentally altered how I pray. Rather than asking God for promotion, I simply pray for promotability. Rather than ask God for more money, better opportunities or [fill-in-the-blank], I simply pray that God would give me the character that's worthy of better opportunities. Rather than praying for "bigger platforms" (or whatever it is that you're pining after), I pray for an intimacy with Him that could sustain me on a bigger platform. And why? Opportunities have never been a problem for God. But character is a totally different issue.
When I change the focus of my prayers, I sometimes think, God is probably up in heaven saying:"Finally! I can trust him with more, without worrying that he'll bow down and worship the very things I'm trying to bless him with!" The fact is, God already wants to promote us. But are we promotable?
In the end, God says: "To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness" (Eccl.2:26). When we align ourselves with heaven's priorities, we align ourselves with heaven's provisions. And God can finally say: "Flip the switch! Because this person truly understands that I am the All in All."
Peter Haas is the pastor of an arts-oriented church called Substance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He's the author of Pharisectomy and Broken Escalators.
Adapted with permission from Broken Escalators: Funny and Frightful Lessons about Moth Eating and Moving to the Next Level (Salubris Resources, 2015).