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Why Are So Many People Unhappy?

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“There is a cause for every effect” is a simple axiom, yet how many truly consider it, much less understand it? How many realize that personally applying such practical wisdom can transform their lives?

I was about 20 years old when this idea was introduced to me. How profound! How simple! Yet today’s university students are instead taught the axiom of victimization: You are not successful, you are not happy—and you can’t be, because you are oppressed by Jews, Christians, conservatives, “white European males,” males in general, or some other perceived privileged class.

But understanding that there is a cause for every effect goes beyond “victim” ideology. In all walks of life, people are living empty lives. It may not be polite to put it this way, but many feel that their lives are in the proverbial toilet. Their relationships are not working. They are depressed, unhappy, and unfulfilled. But they don’t know why. Does any of this describe how you feel? I hope not, but I know that many would say “yes.” For many of these individuals, all outward signs say they are successful. Their bank accounts are full. Yes, they have fun and lots of laughs. But after the laughter stops, after the joyride ends, there is emptiness. People believe they have done all the things they were told would make them happy, but they are not happy. Maybe it is time to question that sort of advice.

Most people think that if they had more money they would be happy. On this subject, the dramatic rise in Chinese prosperity could teach us something. Note this report from Canada’s Maclean’s magazine:

It’s been more than 30 years since Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping opened the country and the Communist party embraced the mantra “to get rich is glorious.” In the decades since, hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty.... The Chinese today are four times richer than they were 20 years ago, and people... have opportunities and creature comforts unheard of a generation ago. But despite China’s economic miracle, recent studies suggest Chinese aren’t any happier than they were in the early 1990s....

Rather than increasing happiness, wealth has had the opposite effect, according to this same article: “Chinese people’s life satisfaction actually declined between 1990 and the mid-2000s, a period when gross domestic product and average consumption increased fourfold” (“Why are the Chinese so sad?,” Maclean’s, February 4, 2013).

What is the secret to happiness and success? Some turn to alcohol or illicit drugs for the answer, but those taking this path find that it does not satisfy in the end. So, what is the way to a better life?

A great king once recorded wise proverbs to teach his son how to live. One of those proverbs tells us, “Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight” (Proverbs 26:2). In other words, there is a cause for every effect. There is a cause for happiness, just as there are causes for depression, emptiness, and loneliness. Some causes of depression may be genetic or clinical, but these do not explain why so many find life unsatisfying. There is a cause for success, and blaming others for your personal failure does nothing to solve the problem. In fact, it perpetuates the problem.

Addressing the Real Cause of Unhappiness

The answer has been here all along, but most refuse to accept it. In a way, we are all at least mildly narcissistic—we are self-centered. We find it difficult to admit that the choices we make might be the problem. It is so much easier to play our personal “victim card” than to admit that our choices might be the cause for the effect we find ourselves experiencing. From an early age, we think we know what will make us happy, when we really do not. More money, more things, more fun—all of this fails us.

The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The context shows that he is not speaking of literal food and drink. He is addressing those who hunger and thirst for fulfillment in life but are coming up empty. He then asks, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isaiah 55:1–2).

Yes, why do we put our efforts and energy into pursuits that never bring lasting happiness? Look around you. What do you see? You see a lot of unhappy people who are seeking happiness in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places. You see people on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, going from thrills and excitement to boredom and depression. You see people striving for more and more of what they already have, thinking that if they only had a little more, they would be content and full. But if fame, fortune, and fun truly bring happiness, why do we have such high-profile suicides among the rich and famous who appear to have it all?

A Way That Leads to Happiness

We were created to have a relationship with our Creator and to live the way of outgoing concern for our fellow human beings. We naturally want to get for ourselves, but God tells us that the way to a fulfilling life is to do the opposite: We must learn and practice the way of give, the way of outgoing concern for others. This is the way to true happiness. The Apostle Paul instructs us, “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

It is not clear exactly when Jesus said this during His ministry. Perhaps it was a popular teaching of His that was known generally but not recorded elsewhere in Scripture, or perhaps it was a summation of this statement: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). This is a hard sell to our physical minds, because it sounds so counterintuitive. This is certainly not the way a child thinks while he is standing in a candy store with a rack full of sugary sweets before his eyes. And are we much different when we see that shiny new car or gorgeous new dress?

Yet, as we should all know from experience, that new item quickly becomes old, and what we thought would make us happy only does so for a short time before leaving us empty again.

God counsels us to come to Him and fill the empty soul with that which lasts, that which comes without money and without price. “Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.... Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:3, 6–8).

We are not mere victims in this life, constantly unable to change our future. Our article “Seven Steps to Happiness,” on page 12 of this issue, lists several actions—large and small—each of us can take to improve our sense of satisfaction with our lives. Each of those actions is only a small part of a much larger approach to living our lives.

If you have not read our publication What Is a True Christian?, I encourage you to do so. It explains a different way of life, the right cause for the effect you desire, and it can be yours free of charge. Order it online at TomorrowsWorld.org or order it from the Regional Office nearest you, listed on page 4 of this magazine. The Bible teaches a way of life that brings happiness. Few know that way, but you can!

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