To most men life is a pursuit. We’re all pursuing something. Work, family, success, pleasure, companionship, fulfillment. Millions of men with millions of pursuits, moving through life and our culture daily. Yet psychologists tell us that most men are unhappy. A recent study revealed that despite life conditions improving, Americans are more anxious, depressed and dissatisfied than they were a decade ago.
Part of this is attributed to a much greater number of distractions in our lives. “Screen time” in both teens and adults is now conclusively proven to reduce overall satisfaction in life. And these distractions also move us from pursuing something in life to observing and commenting on it instead. If you find yourself asking from time to time, “Why am I not happy?” consider these three questions about your life and personal pursuits.
What are you pursuing? Prominent American Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “You don’t become happy by pursuing happiness. You become happy by living a life that means something.” Is what you are pursuing in life worth pursuing? Money has been proven conclusively not to be a significant predictor of happiness. Wealth in the United States is much greater than it was 50 years ago, yet there is no corresponding overall increase in personal satisfaction. Life must be more than a means to an end. It must mean something from beginning to end. The most noble life pursuits are those that are bigger than you. The happiest people are those who have learned how to move from gathering for themselves to giving for the greater good. And they also avoid a comparison mentality which judges personal satisfaction on the scale of their neighbors’ or friends’ level of success. Are you pursuing goals and objectives with your life that will simply benefit you and your family, or are your resources a path to accomplish a far greater objective than can be measured by a bank account?
Who are you pursuing? Just as important as what you are pursuing is who you are pursuing. Your vital relationships form the basis of life’s shared experience. Happy people simply don’t live in isolation. Beyond a close family and meaningful friendships is the pursuit of a true spiritual relationship. It may seem self-serving to say Christ-followers are happier, but there is data to show this is true. A recent Pew Research study found highly religious people were significantly more satisfied with life than those who did not profess a devout religious belief. That same study found happier people were not only pursuing Jesus, but gathered more with their families and extended families, and listened to the advice of family members and religious leaders in their lives. Pursuing Jesus is certainly a step along the path to personal satisfaction in life. Are you pursuing a close relationship with the One True God?
Why are you pursuing? The pursuit of meaning is ultimately what will bring a sense of happiness to life’s journey. Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Why are you doing what you are doing? Does it have real meaning for your life, for the lives of your family and friends? Does it matter to the larger community? And this is also a legacy question—will what you are doing matter when you are gone? Who you are pursuing in a spiritual sense certainly plays into a life that finds deeper meaning. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The lesson from this verse is that someone who finds joy in their relationship with God will find joy in other areas of life.
Happiness in earnest will stem from meaningful pursuits, meaningful relationships and a meaningful purpose, that drives the individual through life. Finding what you love, in a spiritual sense, and focusing on it with passion, involving those closest to you as you grow closer to them, is a practical way to bring more happiness into your life.