I promise this isn’t nearly as morbid as it sounds. Stay with me.
We live in a society where the answer to any one of life’s question marks is to simply “do what makes you happy.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t follow the pursuit of happiness. But I think we’ve stumbled into a grave misunderstanding in the difference between happiness and pleasure.
When faced with a tough moral dilemma or difficult life decision, we find comfort in the adage, “Just do what makes you happy.” As if the choice that makes us feel “good” is the one that will bring us the greatest joy.
If we understood the reality of genuine “happiness,” we might be slower to tell people to do what makes them happy. Because to really do what makes you happy is to commit to a life of suffering and sacrifice.
Unlike pleasure, happiness has never been easy. It’s not the simple solution to a tough choice; its road has never been paved. But it is down this road alone that we find true fulfillment.
Pleasure is the feeling we get when we open a bag of Doritos after work rather than hit the gym. Pleasure is what we find when we sleep in on Sunday morning rather than drag ourselves to church. We find pleasure in making choices that feel good in the moment with little or no regard to our future. Pleasure is for the impatient. Pleasure does not challenge us. It does not advance us. It doesn’t make us harder workers, better husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, or friends.
Only happiness can be sustained beyond the activity producing it; pleasure cannot.
We’ve let a skewed view of happiness blur our definition of life and love. All too often, to “do what makes you happy” is a call to action for us to make selfish and compulsive choices.
Don’t forfeit all of your impulsivity. We all deserve to feel good in the moment. Eat a bag of Doritos in lieu of a workout. Slam a Big Mac. You’ve earned that. But don’t let the feeling of pleasure overcast your journey towards happiness. If we shape our choices solely around what feels right in the moment alone, we surrender to a life of empty pleasure.
Genuine happiness is the act of dying to yourself; relinquishing all selfish needs and desires in commitment to a reward much greater than mere pleasure or instant gratification. It takes work. The road to happiness is more likely to carry us through misery than walk us through our comfort zone. Which often feels like suffering.
But we were made to suffer. It is in our suffering that we are brought closer to Christ. And it is in Christ alone that we find the happiness we desire. Happiness develops through acts of selflessness.
Don’t do what makes you “happy.” Do what makes you suffer. And in your suffering, you will find your happiness.