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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Biggest Hindrance to Your Happiness

Do you want to be happy? Of course you do. After all, who doesn’t want to be happy?

Now, let me ask you a serious question: Are you happy? I’m not asking whether you’re happy every once a while; I’m asking whether your life is characterized by happiness. Are you truly happy or have you tricked yourself into believing you’re happy when deep inside, you long for something more? During the past couple years, I have uncovered what I believe to be the biggest hindrance to your and my happiness: settling for less when we could have more. Let me explain.

Dietsch’s Ice Cream

When I was old enough to start walking on my own, my parents began walking me down the street to our local Dairy Queen where they’d buy me a treasured ice cream sandwich. This was definitely the highlight of my week. The taste of DQ soft-serve ice cream wedged between two chocolate wafers was to die for. I savored every bite. As a kid, I thought nothing could top my weekly treat of a DQ ice cream sandwich.

Five years ago, I moved to Findlay, Ohio, home of Dietsch Brothers fine chocolates and ice cream. One day at work, my boss treated us to some ice cream from Dietsch Brothers. As I was surveying their broad selection of ice cream options, I noticed that they made an ice cream sandwich which looked exactly like the ice cream sandwiches I had eaten at DQ as a kid. Remembering the glorious taste of those ice cream sandwiches, I selected a Dietsch’s ice cream sandwich. I opened the package and scanned the sandwich, comprised of two chocolate wafers with a slab of vanilla ice cream wedged in between, for the best entry point. After picking a spot, I took a large bite into my ice cream sandwich. I couldn’t believe my taste buds! This was absolutely the best tasting ice cream sandwich I had ever eaten. I’m convinced that if there are ice cream sandwiches in heaven, they’re going to be from Dietsch’s. I was so impressed with my ice cream sandwich that I went back for another one and another one and another one. I couldn’t get enough of them!

A week later, I was traveling for work and happened to be driving by a Dairy Queen. Remembering the taste of heaven I had experienced a week earlier while eating Dietsch’s ice cream sandwiches, I pulled in to the DQ and bought myself an ice cream sandwich, expecting similar results. Eager to experience the taste of absolute amazingness again, I quickly opened the package and took my first bite. Similar to my experience a week earlier, I couldn’t believe my taste buds, but for a completely different reason. This ice cream sandwich didn’t taste anything like the ice cream sandwich I had gotten from Dietsch’s the prior week. It didn’t even taste good. I was so disappointed with my DQ ice cream sandwich that I haven’t been back to DQ for an ice cream sandwich since.

When I Experienced More, I Became Disenchanted with Less

What happened? For years, I savored the taste of DQ ice cream sandwiches, but once I experienced the taste of a Dietsch’s ice cream sandwich, I became completely disenchanted with DQ ice cream sandwiches. Was it because Dairy Queen changed their recipe? Not at all. It was because I had experienced the taste of an ice cream sandwich which was so much better that it made the DQ ice cream sandwich taste disgusting.[1] All those years I had settled for DQ ice cream sandwiches which were disgusting compared to the far-superior Dietsch’s ice cream sandwiches.

We do this same thing every single day. We become so desperate to be happy that we’re willing to grab any happiness we can find, even if it’s only a small ounce of temporary happiness. Instead of holding out for Dietsch’s ice cream sandwiches, we settle for DQ ice cream sandwiches. Instead of experiencing an intimate relationship with a loving spouse, we settle for one-night stands. Instead of pursuing happiness in the creator of the universe, we settle for the temporary, ever-disappointing happiness we find in his creation. As C. S. Lewis once wrote:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[2]

Like C. S. Lewis, I believe the biggest hindrance to your and my happiness is that our desires to be happy are not too strong, but too weak. We’ve experienced painful disappointment after painful disappointment in our lives, and as a coping mechanism we’ve successfully suppressed our desire for happiness in order to lessen the pain. We’ve reasoned with ourselves that if we can completely kill every desire we have to experience happiness, then when we don’t experience it, we won’t feel pain, and when we do experience it, it’ll seem like a special treat. The only thing this logic is doing is robbing us of the joy we can experience by allowing our desires for happiness to be so strong that we’re unwilling to settle for anything less than a full tank of happiness.

What Can Quench My Hunger for Happiness

When I first came to this discovery, I began trying to figure out how to increase my desire for happiness. I went searching for it. I prayed for it. I even reasoned that it was okay to glut myself on things which brought me temporary happiness such as Dietsch’s ice cream sandwiches in order to try to maximize my happiness. But I was really doing nothing more than making the same mistake which had originally gotten me to the point where I had suppressed the desire for happiness: I was settling for temporary happiness in things which can’t really quench my long-term hunger for happiness. Had I continued on that path, I would’ve done nothing more than repeated the same cycle all over again of trying to find long-term happiness in things which can only provide temporary happiness.

What can quench my hunger for long-term happiness? In the Bible, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”[3] Does Jesus really possess the ability to quench our hunger for happiness? I can tell you from my own personal experience that he continues to quench more and more my hunger for happiness day after day. But if you’re still skeptical, consider this question: If the creator of the universe is powerful enough to give life to everything in the universe, why wouldn’t the creator of the universe also be able to quench our desire for happiness, a desire which he built into us?

Maybe you’re feeling pretty down right now and aren’t experiencing happiness at all. Maybe you’re feeling like you’ve just been coasting for years, hoping that there’s more, but not quite knowing where to find it. Then again, maybe for the most part you’re experiencing happiness, but still have a deep yearning for something more. If any of those are you, I would encourage you to ask God to allow you to experience the type of happiness he can offer, a type of happiness that won’t come through the created things in this world, but through him. As Jesus once said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”[4]

[1] I don’t want you to get the impression that I think Dairy Queen ice cream sandwiches are disgusting. They are not disgusting. A Dietsch’s ice cream sandwich’s taste is so superior to that of a DQ ice cream sandwich that on a comparative basis, it’s disgusting.
[2] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, rev. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 26.
[3] John 6:35.
[4] John 4:14.

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