I don’t know if you saw in the news a couple of weeks ago, the UN realized a publication entitled the World Happiness Report 2015. In this report it rated over 150 countries around the world according to a Gross National Happiness index which took into account factors like emotional well-being, standard of living, good governance and cultural diversity. Switzerland came out on top, and Canada rated 5th highest on their list.
No matter what country they live in, one of the universal questions people ask is: "How in the world can I be happy?" Happiness is something we all hope for, but unfortunately for too many it is only an elusive dream that somehow we have a hard time experiencing.
About 3000 years ago, King Solomon found the same experience to be true in his life. In the book of Ecclesiastes, he wrote: "A person might live a thousand years twice over, but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else, what's the use?" (6:6)
In other words, what does it matter how long I live, if I can’t experience happiness while I'm living?
As you read thru the book of Eccles, you discover that Solomon seemed to be obsessed with finding the secret to satisfaction & happiness in his life. Eccles 2:1 "I decided to enjoy myself and find out what happiness is." (GNB) Now you'd think that if anyone should have been able to find happiness in life, it would have been Solomon.
He was one of the wealthiest & most powerful men in the world at that time. Not only that, but we're told that God endowed him with great wisdom. In our scripture reading, Eccles 2, he describes his search for happiness & fulfillment in life. It says he searched out a number of different things.
1st. He tried to find happiness, by pursuing a life of Pleasure.
Eccle 2:10: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” Having the wealth he did, there was no pleasure on earth that was not to available to King Solomon. You name it, he tried it: wine, women, song, the whole scene. He threw extravagant, wild parties. He hired the best singers and entertainers available. He acquired a huge harem of beautiful women. The Bible tells us that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 paid mistresses.
But ultimately it was all hollow. It gave Solomon no lasting satisfaction or happiness. Today we live in a world whose whole focus seems to be the pursuit of personal pleasure. But as with Solomon, we discover that none of it brings true happiness.
2. So then Solomon decided to look for happiness in his Work. In accomplishing great things. “I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.” Solomon built a great palace for himself, and a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. He became the undisputed leader of a vast empire. v11: "Yet” he says “when I surveyed all that my hands had done, & what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after wind."
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson had enough accomplish-ments in his lifetime to fill 3 volumes. Yet, his biographer said, as she spoke to him during the last days of his life down on his ranch in Texas, he pleaded with her, "Please, make something meaningful of my life!". Solomon said the same thing: I work and work, but what does it accomplish?
3. Solomon also tried accumulating wealth. 2:7-8 "I owned more herds & flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself and the treasure of kings and provinces."
Solomon became one of the wealthiest man who ever lived in history. The Bible says it took him fourteen years to build his house, it was so big! It took 30 cattle and 100 sheep being slaughtered everyday just to feed his household. He had far more money than any of us could ever imagine. He had everything money could buy. Yet, he said he still wasn't satisfied. 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.”
John D Rockefeller was once asked, "How much money does it take to make a man happy?" His answer: "Just a little more!"
What do you do when you have everything you've ever wanted, but it’s still not enough? That was Solomon's predicament. He had it all, he tried it all, he spent it all -- but he was still unsatisfied.
Solomon says he tried pleasure, achievement, wealth, success- all the things we spend most of our lives trying to attain. None of them may be bad things in themselves. They just didn't bring the happiness and satisfaction Solomon had hoped for.
Today we find ourselves living in a world today that is filled with people who, like Solomon, are obsessed with finding happiness, yet seem more unhappy than ever before. And so, if these things don't bring happiness, what does?
When we turn to the NT, we hear Jesus telling us that the way to true happiness lies in a very different direction. In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his Sermon on the mount, with what we might call “8 secrets to true happiness" They’re generally referred to as the Beatitudes.
The word generally translated as “blessed” (makarios) can also mean mean “happy”, or “fortunate”
We don't have time to look at all of them this morning. But I'd like us to use at least the 1st 4 of Jesus’ Beatitudes as a framework for answering our question: "How can I be happy?" Turn to Matt 5:3.
1. "Blessed (or lit. Happy) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?
But I think Jesus is saying the first step toward happiness, is to recognize what your real hunger, your real need is. What he’s saying is: "Happy are those who recognize their need for God"
You see the emptiness in your heart, what's missing, is God! If anything but God is at the center of your life, you will not be satisfied.
The Bible says God made you as a spiritual being. Pascal said there is a God-shaped vacuum in every human heart. When you try to fill that emptiness with anything but God, it's like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. It doesn't fit. What you're really searching for in all of your quest for happiness, is actually God himself.
When He's not the center of your life, you will be unsatisfied.
Augustine said, "You, O Lord, have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find themselves in you."
You were made to have God at the center of your life. The sooner you figure that out the easier your life is going to be. Then you can stop trying to find replacements, plastic substitutes for the real thing.
2. "Blessed are those who mourn; God will comfort them!" How can we be happy when life disappoints us? Life is always going to be a combination of pleasure and pain. I'm sure you know that from personal experience. There's a lot of heartache in life. If your life has to be problem-free in order for you to be happy, you're never going to be happy. If you are dependent upon circumstances to make you happy, you're going to be miserable most of your life. You have to learn to be happy in the problem, in the situation, while you're unemployed, during the difficulty, in the trial, while you're sick.
Paul said "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Phil 4:12)
No matter what you're going through right now you are not alone. God is with you and you can give your pain and your frustrations over to him. Trust Him when life is disappointing, and that will help you be happy even when things aren't just the way you want them to be.
3. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" Meekness is not the same as weakness. Meekness is relying on God to look after you rather than your own strength, your own resources. It’s looking to God to meet your needs. Don't expect your spouse to meet all your needs, or your boss, or anyone. If you expect somebody else to meet all your needs you're going to be disappointed. God says, Expect Me to meet your needs. Perhaps a good paraphrase of this verse is:
"Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth belongs to them." Rather than frantically grabbing all you can get, relax. God will take care of your needs. The whole world belongs to God. If you are His child, he will provide for you. Learn to become a giver and not a taker. Trust God and look to Him to meet all your needs.
Eccles 2 shows the futility of trying to be happy without God in your life over the long term. Did you notice in our scripture reading how often Solomon uses personal pronouns like "I, me, my, myself"? 31 times in 11 verses. Solomon talks about my achievements, my wealth, my accomplishments, my harem, my pleasure, my success. It's all incredibly self-centered. But Self centered people are never happy. Why? Because when you're self-centered, you're no fun to live with. You make others around you miserable, & then you're miserable as well.
I don't think it would be overstating it to say that by and large, my generation, the baby boom generation, is the most self-absorbed generation in history. And we are also the most dissatisfied generation in history. We need to learn to trust God, and not be so selfish and self-centered.
4. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." You’ll only find true happiness & satisfaction in life, if you decide you’re going to do what God tells you to do. The fact is God wants us to enjoy life, and not just endure it. In 1 Tim 6:17 it says "God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." He wants us to live and not just exist. So He's created certain principles that are there for our own benefit. When we follow those principles, we find blessing. When we ignore them we get hurt. Every principle, rule, or command in the Bible is there for our benefit. The closer you follow those principles, the happier your life is going to be. The more you ignore them, the more headaches you're going to have. You'll find yourself bouncing up against brick walls, facing depression, facing burn out, facing anxiety and despair, tension and distress, because you're not living the way God meant for you to live.
The bottom line is that Happiness is not dependant on, or a result of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Happiness is really a choice we make. It begins the moment I choose to say, “I'm going to put God at the center of my life. I'm going to trust him when life is disappointing. I'm going to look to him to meet my needs. And I'm going to try to live my life according to guidelines he has laid out for me in his Word. I believe that is the only way to true happiness in my life.
Solomon says, "Let me save you some grief. Even tho I accomplished far more than you will ever dream of. Even tho I had far more wealth and experienced far more pleasure than most of you will ever think of- I didn't find happiness there." I only found it in God.