Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Little Bit More

The quest for relative happiness never leads to truth.

We know this, right? Even Hollywood tells us, movie script after movie script, that money and the accumulation of stuff cannot bring us happiness. Every rom-com tells us that love is all you need. Even the Beatles told us that. But we didn't listen.

Many of us live our lives looking toward some brighter day, when we finally get that job, or that salary, that car, house, wife, or family. That one thing we want that will finally make us happy. And what happens when you get it? Ask a millionaire. All of the honest ones will tell you there is no happiness to be found in money, that a bigger sum just means a bigger burden, more stress, more anxiety. Like the great Biggie Smalls once said, "Mo' money, mo' problems."

We know this. We've heard it a million times. The quest for material things ends in sadness... So why do we still look at so-and-so's job, car, house, body, style, life and crave it like it's the antidote?

The quest for relative happiness never leads to truth. Key word is "relative." It means, "in relation to." In relation to this person, I'm happy, or not happy, or good, or not as good. It's comparative, but even more (and worse) it's competitive. 

Oil baron John D. Rockefeller was once asked by a reporter how much money is enough, "Just a little bit more," he replied.

Point being, there is never enough.

So you've quested for relative happiness. You've finally made a million. You're in the 1%, which means you're comparatively richer that 99% of Americans. Here is when you cash in, right? You live on the interest, right? You go do full-time charity work and live a meaningful life, right?

Wrong. Your quest for relative happiness has trained and defined you. You are now innately competitive. You cannot settle with "enough" because compared to so-and-so, you don't stack up. You tell yourself, "Just one more deal, just a few more years, just when my savings hits this number."

Just a little bit more...

We know this, right? How many movies and songs and books have been written about how money can't buy us happiness? How much have we learned about how the accumulation of stuff has the opposite desired effect?

Yet we still clamor and scrape and justify our motives. It's all a bunch of silliness.

We know this, but we look forward to that next thing that will bring us happiness. That fantasy that will fulfill us.

The problem with fantasies is that they change your perspective on reality. You can't be happy with the tangible present because the expectations in your head are unrealistic. Now you're perpetually sad. Life is disappointing. It didn't turn out like the fantasy. That next big thing didn't bring happiness. How depressing. Keeping up with the Jones' did not bring happiness. The quest for relative happiness did not get us closer to meaning or truth or peace. And we act surprised, but we shouldn't.

Because we knew this, right?

The thing is, if you actually know this, like if you actually take it to heart, you're already richer than a million millionaires. You have the thing they desperately want. The thing they're all clamoring for.

Taking it to heart means living in the present. It means giving yourself to the people you love and loving the people you don't. It means putting others above yourself. It means doing generous work. It means being generous with your time. It means not competing for more stuff, and not being concerned with the comparative material wealth of your neighbor.

This is how Jesus said to live. He said things like, "Love your neighbor," and "Turn the other cheek," and "Go the extra mile," and "Blessed are the poor," and "Love your enemy." 

He turned the world on it's head with that kind of talk, but you know what? It's a better way to live. It actually creates deep and real contentment, and that's a good enough reason for me to try to follow it.


  1. But what comes first: good works and "turn the other cheek" that lead to contentment, or the other way around? Because I think the wanting, the discontent, is real. It isn't the action of doing good or loving our neighbors that will fill us up; instead, that kind of altruism is only going to come from a person who's already filled up, who's already content.

    The dissatisfaction we're all feeling isn't just a matter of people needing to buck up and stop being sissies. It's real. We're surrounded by pain and death, and somehow that's going to be solved by sharing my coat or helping out the poor?

    I guess I'd argue that "love your neighbor" comes OUT of contentment, not that it leads to it. Maybe I'm splitting hairs here.

    1. I think the point I was trying to make was less about helping out the poor and more about refusing to compete for meaningless things that we all agree do not bring happiness.

      I see your point, but I'd also argue alongside C.S. Lewis that attempting to love your neighbor will actually cause you to love your neighbor. It's practical and psychological... the more you abuse someone, the more you hate them. The more you serve them, the more grace you have for them.

      Sometimes doing the right thing despite how discontent one is creates contentment, and contentment perpetuates itself. Just like selfishness perpetuates selfishness, selflessness breeds selflessness, which I believe leads to happiness.

      So I'd agree with your point that the content individual naturally serves others and isn't obsessed with stuff, but I'd also defend my argument that serving others and keeping stuff in it's rightful place makes you a more content individual.

  2. It's good that you've come out of hibernation, Matt and you're thinking again! There are some interesting thoughts in the comment of LouCall here, but I think Jesus was trying to teach us to put others ahead of ourselves. Yes we are surrounded by death and pain, but is the accumulation of "things" going to solve it? The way to solve it seems to me, is to try to meet the needs of others in that death and pain, if that means giving them a coat, than why not? It isn't always so easy, but the point Jesus was making was that "we would want someone to help us" so step out in love and try to help others in what ever way you can. He said "whatever you do for the least of these you do for me." It's also about learning to be content in ones situation, which is mentioned many times in the bible, one such time is in Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
    So apparently the love of Jesus is all we need and we should share it abundantly with others!