More and more, I am convinced that by doing what makes me happy – not just temporarily, hedonistically happy – but truly happy in a way that makes me excited to wake up each morning, I am helping other people. For example, I deeply love doing things for other people. On the surface, just saying that sounds selfish or arrogant or self-aggrandizing, but the truth is very little in the world makes me as happy as helping someone else. Is it selfish to help people because it makes me happy? Maybe, but should I not help others because I don’t want to seem selfish? This seems counterproductive, to say the least.
Other things that make me happy – writing, reading, gardening, talking with good friends – all of these things give me such joy that I know I am a better, more pleasant, more loving person simply for having done them. If I get some writing in each morning, I am wholly a better teacher, a better friend, a better person. Something about this act just lets me live into myself more fully, and when I feel safe in who I am and when I feel like I am living out of who I am created to be, I’m nicer, more patient, more calm. Pursuing my own happiness is not just about me; it’s about making me be the person I was created to be so that, in turn, others have the freedom to do the same.
I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and one of the points she makes over and over again when people challenge her with the selfishness of her goal to find happiness is that:
One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.
So often it seems that we think we must sacrifice all we want in life to fulfill our purpose. But what if fulfilling our purpose doesn’t mean giving up who we are but instead living into who we were created to be? In Matthew 10 and again in Matthew 16, Jesus says, to paraphrase, “Give up your life for me and you will find your real life.” What if this doesn’t mean for us to give up everything we truly want? What if instead God is asking us to be who God has called us to be in our hearts? What if that’s what God means when God says that we will find our lives?
For me, when I feel like I have deprived myself of everything I want, even if I’m doing that because I want to give to someone else, even when I do it because it’s what’s “responsible” or “right” or even “moral,” I don’t usually feel like a child of God living a life of joy. Instead, I feel tired, resentful, completely unholy.
The truth, as I see it, is this – if we live the lives we are called to, if we dig deep and find our true lives, the lives for which we are made, we are giving up what is not pure, what is not holy. We are instead finding our lives saved.
So be happy. Live your bliss. Be who you are. Make yourself happy. Make others happy. Make God happy. To me, it’s that simple.
Also, take a look at Ken Mueller’s blog post about the tragic flooding in Nashville. Talk about pursuing happiness by helping others; this guy lives this idea.