The Thief You Least Expect
Earlier this year, I went to my 20-year high school reunion, and it was interesting, to say the least. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, we had a good time. Most of the class of 2002 are now 37 or 38 years old and well into adulthood. During our gathering, I had a conversation with a classmate who was pregnant. We chatted a little about life, business, and her pregnancy. I even discovered (through a friend who joined in on the conversation) that one of her friends was dating one of my friends, and I had no idea.
I know my friend pretty well, so I asked what her friend was looking for out of a relationship. She responded, "Well, I guess she wants what everyone wants... to be happy, right?" I responded by saying that, at the our age, I want something that lasts, but I didn't really dig much deeper since we were just having a conversation. That said, the statement she made about everybody wanting to be happy really stood out to me. Ever since that conversation, I've noticed this mass pursuit of happiness that is very prevalent in our culture. It's fueled by ideas like self love, self empowerment, doing what makes you happy, and putting yourself first.
On the surface, these ideas sound great. Let's be honest. Who doesn't want to be happy? But I couldn't help but wonder why a generation that emphasizes happiness so much is one of the most depressed, downtrodden, and lonely generations of all time. As I continued to meditate on this irony, that's when it finally hit me... Happiness is a thief of joy.
I'm an 80's baby and the 90's raised me. One thing I have noticed is that my generation tends to be arrested in our development. I am considered a millennial, and statistically, millennials tend to do everything later in life (if we do it at all). We are less likely to get married, and if we do, it's later in life. We also have kids at a lower rate and much later in life. I know there are different circumstances for everyone, but this is generally speaking.
My generation is so resistant to growing up that we complain about normal tasks like going to work and paying bills, and have labeled it as "adulting". Many are obsessed with remaining in school, accumulating degrees, and becoming "lifelong learners". Some have an unhealthy obsession with childhood nostalgia, so much so that McDonald's started selling adult happy meals and people went bananas. I've even seen a new trend where people are now dressing up and and having "adult proms". There's nothing wrong with having fun, but there seems to be an unhealthy desire not to grow up. Yet, with all of these fun activities and busyness, there are still so many people who are dissatisfied with life. Why is this?
To answer that question, it's important to really look at what is unique about millennials. Every generation experiences technological advancements and entertainment, but the millennial generation truly pioneered a golden age of technology. We were the first to be completely inundated with entertainment, luxuries, and amenities. We were the generation that had our own TV's in our room, with cable. We are the generation who popularized video games. Also, we are also the pioneers of social media. I remember when Facebook came out in 2004, while I was in college, and it was only available to college students. And while every generation probably claims this, I really believe that our generation was the golden years of the "club" era. Ultimately, we became pleasure addicts who could get our dose of happiness from our fingertips at all times.
All of this entertainment and partying has given us enough happiness to last ten lifetimes, but what it didn't give us is joy. Happiness is a feeling that can easily come and go, and that's why we have to constantly chase it. The main theme in the happiness movement of self love, self empowerment, and self prioritization is self. The problem is that a constant focus on self can be exhausting and unfulfilling.
Joy, on the other hand, is something that contains substance. Oftentimes, joy is something that requires effort and a journey. We experience joy in moments like childbirth, seeing your child graduate, winning a championship, retiring from your job, or getting married. These joyful moments are not quick and easily gained, so when you experience them, they last forever. The journey of getting to joy does not always feel good. It usually requires a lot of sacrifice, patience, and effort. In fact, there' a scripture that says they that sow in tears shall reap in joy (Psalm 126:5). We must decide if we will chase what's quick and easy or if we want to put in the work for something that lasts.
The Bible tells us that God is love, and people are designed in His image. Therefore, we function at our best when we are operating in love. When we look at the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we see that love is not a tingly feeling of happiness, but rather an intentional service of selfless acts. Love is patient, kind, it keeps no record of wrongdoing, it does not envy, does not boast, does not behave inappropriately, does not seek its own way, etc. While the world tells everyone to prioritize self, the word of God teaches that we are at our best when we are divested of self.
God's design is unavoidable because He created us. Those of us who chose the instant gratification of happiness at the expense of joy are wrestling with this design. Many have substituted a family and children with owning pets and becoming plant moms/dads. One of the best things about dogs is that they are always happy to see you. They don't argue and they don't start drama. You don't have major disagreements. They bring the convenience of having something to love and that [seemingly] loves you back without facing any real challenges, risks, or accountability. So, why is it that we settle for the substitutes instead of the working for the real deal?
Living Your Best Life?
In that same conversation I had with my pregnant classmate, I asked her if her and the father of her child were thinking of tying the knot. She said that they decided to have the child first and assess how they work together for a few years before discussing marriage. She explained that a lot of times, people get into marriages and it doesn't work out and it ends up damaging the child.
I totally disagree with her approach, but I understand where she's coming from. She's basically saying that they are afraid of commitment and aren't interested in putting in the work to have a lasting marriage. The truth is that a lot of people in our generation don't embrace marriage because we haven't seen it work. Many us grew up in homes with dysfunctional marriages. Some have seen our parents divorce. Or, some may have grew up in single parent homes with no marriage at all. So, instead of putting in the work for something that may not work out, many people avoid the risk all together and choose to be "happy". I get the logic in that, but what is the alternative?
The truth is that a lot of marriage fail because they aren't rooted in Christ. We have seen manmade versions of marriage fail, but very few people have seen Godly marriages. Even the Godly marriages require hard work though. The truth is that anything worth having will require some risk and some effort. It's the difference between ice cream and a home cooked meal. One will make you happy for a moment, but doesn't leave you fulfilled. The other is designed to sustain you.
I wrote a lot of "we" in this writing because I'm not exempt from these issues. There are decisions that I have made in the past that prioritized happiness and pleasure instead of something more substantive. I'm at peace with any consequences from that and I understand that any real change will start with acknowledging reality and repenting.
There are other generations behind us that have even more media than we were given. This selfie generation is being taught to exalt self even more than ever. In fact, we are being told that the only way to be "living your best life" is to pursue happiness and put yourself first. But as many of us age without families and legacies to call our own, or without structure and peace because of impromptu mistakes that we've made, is that really living our best life? Living your best life is living the life that God has planned for you. There is certainly a place for self love and self care and happiness, in the right context, but it should never be at the expense of joy. Hopefully, we can begin to see the real value of God's design for life and family and we can all just simply grow up!
1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”