Faith Column: Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows
The pursuit of happiness in and out of faith
An article recently recieved a great deal of attention on the Internet called “Marriage Isn’t For You.” Where a Christian man, Seth Adam Smith, writes a heartwarming piece all about how he realized that marriage wasn’t about him, but was for the happiness of his wife. He encourages couples everywhere to be more selfless in relationships and focus on the happiness of their partner, because that will inevitably make the entire relationship better.
One of these criticisms towards the article came from a response by Wayne Self in the Huffington Post. His point was that there are many factors that contribute to happiness, and “if you make someone else’s happiness your mission in life, you give them the power to make your life a failure.” You should focus on your own happiness and you can build off of that as a couple says Self.
All of this got me thinking about the priority of individual happiness. Friends of mine that supported Self’s article reaffirmed that personal happiness was indeed of the utmost importance. Making others happy is a bonus.
Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, wrote a book, Generation Me. She talks about the focus on self that characterizes Generation Y. She concluded that now more than ever, children are raised to have high self-esteem and take care of themselves.
Anyone from Generation Y (including myself) would tell you that there is nothing inherently wrong with this mindset. Twenge also shows in her research that depression, anxiety, and loneliness are at an all time high. Does that mean there is something inherently wrong with this mindset?
Religion, on the other hand, seems to have an intrinsically different view of what priorities should characterize our lives. In the book “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be,” Cornelius Plantinga Jr. sums up the Christian understanding quite well.
He proposes that a Christian understanding of how the world is supposed to be includes “peace that adorns and completes justice, mutual respect, and deliberate and widespread attention to the public good.” The last item on that list is of particular concern to this topic. Not only does it focus on public over private, but he also focuses on that which is good, not necessarily that which makes us happy.
In my own life there are things that are good for me that do not make me happy. Eating my vegetables in place of Nutella three meals a day does not make me happy, but it’s good for me. Being rebuked by a friend or teacher when I’m wrong makes me quite unhappy, but it’s good for me. Loving my significant other and putting their needs first, even when I don’t feel like it, does not make me happy — but I believe it’s for a greater good.
So you can go ahead and preach a gospel of personal happiness until you’re blue in the face, but it seems like the best way for Generation Me to achieve happiness, involves putting the good of others a little higher on our priority lists.