An Anglican priest and a Buddhist monk walk into a bar.
Joy is a slippery topic, even for spiritual heavyweights like Desmond Tutu and Tenzin Gyatso. Yet, despite their theological and cultural differences, the longtime friends agreed on a fundamental truth about happiness:
You can’t find happiness by looking for it.
Sounds like a Zen riddle, right? It’s not. You will never find happiness because happiness can’t be found.
Real happiness – deep-down joy that oozes from your pores – isn’t about chasing down your wants or crossing items off your wish list.
It’s about other people.
Neuroscience and the Key to Happiness
Your Ability to Maintain Positive States
Your Ability to Recover from Negative States
Your Ability to Focus
Your Ability to Be Generous
Debunking the Happiness Myth
Teaching a kid to ride a bike. Spending time with a sick friend. Serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless.
It feels good to help other people. But when it comes to our personal happiness, we forget about the adrenalin rush that comes from serving others.
Instead of looking outward, we look inward. We buy. We eat. We drink. We consume in the insane hope that it will satisfy our cravings for peace, contentment and meaning.
That’s not how happiness works. The emotional bump we get from consumption quickly fades. The first bowl of ice cream we eat is bliss. The second bowl is tolerable. The third is something we force ourselves to endure.
We keep looking for happiness in all the wrong places (Abrams calls it the “hedonic treadmill”) when the only thing capable of bringing us real joy is right in front of our eyes: generosity and the simple willingness to pursue good for others.
“(If) you are setting out to be joyful, you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people.
–ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU
Happiness Is the Byproduct of Empathy and Kindness
One of the group members works in the healthcare profession. He shared that it’s true — maintaining a sense of happiness when his job forces him to constantly interact with the suffering and smells of chronically ill people sometimes feels impossible. But he said that God speaks to him through their suffering. When he consciously practices empathy, he is filled with joy.
Other people remind us to be grateful. They provide opportunities for compassion. We experience happiness not as a goal, but as a byproduct of the empathy and kindness we practice in the lived moments of daily life, even when those moments are filled with suffering and negativity.
“People think about money or fame or power … One individual, no matter how powerful, how clever, cannot survive without other human beings. So the best way to fulfill your wishes, to achieve your goals, is to help others.”
–The DALAI LAMA
Does God Want Us to Be Happy?
If your idea of happiness is a new car, a super-sexy spouse or an impressive bank account, then no. God could care less about your happiness.
But if you define happiness the way Jesus defines happiness, then your happiness is the only thing God cares about.
Because real happiness is the inevitable result of generosity, the unavoidable outcome of a life lived for other people.