Categories : Happiness



You keep chasing happiness but the more you do, the more it evades you.

It’s disillusioning because you’re doing everything our culture tells you to do to be happy. You’ve jumped through all the hoops better than most.

People may even envy you, wishing they had what you have.

There’s just one problem.

You’re. Freaking. Miserable.

No matter how many brag-worthy pictures you post on Facebook (which amount to maybe one percent of your life).

You have the other 99 percent to deal with and it’s, well, not exactly Facebook-worthy.

Let’s talk about the other 99 percent (mine and yours). What do you say?

The Problem Isn’t You

The reason you keep chasing happiness and come up empty, that is.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re dealing with hard-set laws.

Laws as real as gravity–Even more so, actually.

Want to be happy by pursuing happiness for the sake of happiness?

I’ll give you something easier to do first.

Try what you did when you were a kid (or a kid at heart!).

Flap both your arms as fast as you can and see how far your feet lift off the ground.

That’s seriously easier than chasing happiness and actually catching it. The law of gravity is a lesser law than the law of happiness.

The Law of Happiness

The law of happiness works the same for everyone regardless of race, age, gender or socio-economic status.

Here it is: If you make happiness your chief aim, you’ll get exactly the opposite of what you want.

The law of happiness says something about the eternal character of God. It’s way more intimate than physical laws that can change without God’s character changing.

You’re made in the image of God. Buried deep in you is a blueprint.

Your blueprint tells something unique about you. It says your purpose always overrides your pleasure. (At least that’s the way your life actually makes sense).

We have a purposeful God, not a self-medicating one. We all work the same way though we try convincing ourselves we don’t.

The law of happiness cuts to the heart of who God is, always was and always will be.

We’ve become masters of the happiness pursuit. But we don’t have what we wanted.

We are renegades.

Destitute treasure seekers who can’t afford a loaf of bread.

We’ve left God’s way. The way that’s written all over us.

Turned our backs on how we’re wired–the way we work.

We’ve re-invented ourselves.

Or have we?

Doesn’t the idea of re-invention mean that the new result must be better than it was previously?

The utopian life we hoped for is a plane crash site–a charred ground zero. Like a drunken airline pilot who brought down way more than himself when he tried to “feel a little better”.

We weren’t made for comfort and happiness above all other things.

That’s the surest way to despair.

You Were Meant To Go To Sea

Here’s a saying you may have heard before:

“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for.”

We were made for the spray of the sea and the howl of the gale. Meant to struggle and overcome in that struggle.

Yeah, that can mean beautiful, safe weather but it can also mean a cold, crummy drizzle or treacherous hurricanes.

But deep down, something satisfying happens by leaving that harbor. You accomplish the “why” to your existence.

Make no mistake–You have a why.

Even if you sink miles to the ocean bottom in an epic storm, at least it was while doing what you were meant to do.

We all die regardless. Either die doing something that matters or don’t–but either way, you still die.

About the Harbor Dwellers

The “ships” pursuing happiness for its own sake–what are they doing?

They’re sitting safely in harbor, slowly rotting to pieces–that’s what they’re doing.

Going from this harbor to that one, always looking for a cozier cove. It’s shameful.

Yes, there’s comfort. Yes, there’s pleasure. Yes, there’s safety.

But all those things (which aren’t bad in and of themselves) cannot drown out the pain of a squandered life.

Those who accomplish their purpose are looked down on by the harbor dwellers. But those who cruise into the harbor after spanning the Indian, Pacific or Atlantic have a different perspective.

They may have fleeting thoughts of envy when they look at the harbor dwellers. But hopefully more than anything else, there is pity.

It’s not too late for the harbor dwellers–At least not yet.

They’ve bought the lie that those comforts, those pleasures cancel out the pain of pointlessness.

They do not. They cannot. They never will.

Sound like a recipe for happiness?

It isn’t.

It’s the perfect recipe for misery and that’s all.

Oh, but our culture tries to convince you that a slow rot in the harbor is where it’s at.

Don’t you see their dead eyes? Dead before death even shows up.

Don’t you see their shriveled sails hanging limply against their masts–in disrepair and rotting clean through?

The stench of a hundred molds catch your nose making you lurch.

That’s the American Dream at its finest, baby.

Cool, huh?

Yeah, real cool–like getting bit by a rabid wolverine cool.

It has nothing to do with physical aging. That happens to everyone regardless and there’s no shame in that.

Rather, it’s the profound deadness of soul that results from doing virtually nothing worthwhile with your life. The heaping up of everything for yourself and, thereby, being left with nothing.

No amount of pleasure can blot out a pain so immense as missing the point of your life.

Happiness Is a By-Product

Happiness isn’t something to pursue. It’s way too cunning to be had that easily.

Lasting happiness is something that just happens, not something you wrestle to the ground and take hold of.

All the money in the world can’t buy it. Neither can all the best circumstances create it.

And the worst of scenarios on this earth cannot steal it from the person who truly possesses it.

It’s a by-product.

The by-product of a life that’s lived doing things that matter.

Real happiness–call it joy or whatever you like–is more like quiet contentment. A close and loyal companion always at your side.

With this close friend, you can overcome any circumstance thrown your way or at least die trying.

And if you die trying, the result is even better than staying in this world brimming with problems.

Your purpose overrides the weak pleasures this world chases after. And in that, ironically, lies the greatest form of pleasure.

Your pleasure becomes your purpose.

And where does that quiet joy, that quiet happiness come from?

It comes from God to tell you you’re on the right track.

That quiet joy tells you that dying so you can live makes sense.

That living only to die is a short-sighted lie. That it can’t even make you truly happy during the very brief time you’re “living”.

And so the thing that, at first, seemed so dreadful that you avoided it like a flu bug becomes your delight.

You become that kernel of wheat that dies that Jesus talked about.

You go into the ground and produce an incredible harvest. Without first dying to live, that wouldn’t have been possible.

Your life amounts to something–something that matters.

You fulfill your why. You don’t just simply die.

You do die in peace, though. You die expecting more than you’ve ever seen, ever experienced.

Because real life is just starting at death.

To your last breath, you know there was no other way that made sense.

Anything else was pure madness, insanity.

Is This the Last Day Of Your Life?

For anyone reading this, it could be.

If so, it’s still not too late to get out of that stuffy, harbor prison and discover your purpose. To go to sea and never look back no matter how hard (or good) things get.

Your God is way too concerned about progress to fault you for a late start.

Tell Him you’re fed up and that you want something more than rotting in a stagnant harbor.

He wants to see a courageous finish out of you. With Him, you have more grit than you ever imagined.

Yep. That’s Him at the finish line waiting.

He’s your biggest fan.

The smell of Heaven is in the air.

Like the smell before a vigorous, May rain.




“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

Matthew 10:39



“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”

John 12:24-25



  It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.

Hebrews 11:24-26



“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

-Jim Elliot


6 Responses to “Why The Pursuit of Happiness Leads to Misery”
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  1. Greetings Neal

    Many thanks for your well thought out and considered response. It has been enormously helpful as I have continued to work through the whole question of purpose of life in retirement.

    I agree with your thoughts about our worth and value. As you say though we struggle between knowing that it is only God’s views that matter and listening to what the world says about production-based values. Like most things in the Christian life this is a work in progress and will never be completed this side of Glory.The ironic thing is that it is in the church that the production values show themselves keenly. Accounting for the use of one’s time was one such value that was the bane of my life in some church situations. In my earlier days I use to put up a defence to this but of course it never really satisfied the punters because so much of it was intangible ( how does one quantify prayer for example?) In my later situations I didn’t bother defending myself beyond saying that if folks kept their eyes and ears open they would know what was being done. Worked well enough to allow me to get on with things.
    One issue you raised that crystallized my thinking was that of starting my own ministry. When I thought about this I realised that I was doing this already- I just wasn’t seeing it as my ministry as such. What I do to make up this ministry is:
    1. One morning a week have coffee in a local shopping mall and talk to whoever comes by. This is usually church folk and some real pastoral ministry has been possible here.
    2. My brother died suddenly on 9 October. He has 5 children and they ( together with his wife) are rudderless without him there so I have been doing some telephone/Facebook ministry to that situation. ( I can’t do face-to-face as they live in Darwin which is a long way from here) Even prior to my brother’s death they each seem to have a hatload of problems and his death has added more to their load.
    3. I am in regular contact with six missionary families ( mostly by email but a couple on Skype). The encouragement I have offered seems to be well received.
    4. I have been reading my stories at local service clubs. I have found this to be very satisfying.
    Between all these things I have a busy ministry really. I suppose I hadn’t being looking at this as a ministry but just a number of separate things I did. I might add that all these things can be done within my health limits.
    Well Neal I might leave it there. I feel invigorated and that I have a purpose under God in my retirement years. For this I am privileged to thank you.
    Because of Calvary

  2. Grant Cole says :

    Hullo Neal

    May I commend you for this excellent article that articulates the meaning of life so clearly. I appreciated your simple choice of words to explain profound truths so well.

    One of the problems that I have personally in implementing these truths comes in retirement. How do I maintain/create purpose when the majority of my life’s purposes no longer exist when I leave the work force? The obvious answer to that question is to develop new ones but I have not found that easy to achieve after some 46 years in the workforce. Further the new purposes only bring partial happiness as they can only take you so far. Voluntary work with service organisations for example usually only allows help up to the point where a paid worker takes over. It is difficult to develop purpose out of hobbies. While interesting in themselves they are simply what they are designed for- being hobbies. I could mention other situations too.

    Being realistic too the fact of getting older tends to make one less creative in ones thinking.
    I would be interested to hear your views on this issue of purpose in retirement. I have a suspicion that I’m not the only one who is seeking an answer to this question.

    1. Hi Grant!

      That’s great that the article spoke to you. You’ve posed some important questions and, in a little bit, I’ll follow up with a longer response. I hope all is well for you and your family in Australia!

      1. Getting back to your questions, Grant… (Sorry it took a while!)

        The beautiful thing is that who you are in Christ doesn’t change in retirement. Before you were old enough to go into the workforce, God was just as ready to guide you through life and show you his love then as He is now on the other side of employment.

        Although what I’m about to say won’t in itself cause the challenges you describe to go away, I want to remind you of something important.

        Your personal value does not rest on what you produce. I’ve greatly struggled with this and still do many times. I believe that men generally feel the pain of not being in the workforce all the greater which adds to the challenge in retirement for them (Or if they don’t perceive they’re “successful”). This is so ingrained in our minds here in America and many developed countries (perhaps you could vouch for Australia, too?)

        As an amputee, I’ve felt the pain of not being able to do as much as I’d like. Many tell me that I’m exactly like everyone else. While they mean well, I’m not like everyone else and it limits what jobs I could have done and can do. I was very interested in being in the military, for instance, but that was obviously not possible. Because of these things, I’ve struggled with self-worth. It doesn’t have to define me but it has changed the path of my life (I say that understanding that many have far greater challenges than that!). At times, this has altered how much I “produce,” I suppose.

        But does that change my worth? No, it doesn’t.

        Culturally, so much is wrong with how we value people ( I include much of our “Christian” culture in this). Those who “produce more” may be more valuable in a society’s or institution’s eyes but someone who “produces less” is certainly not less valuable.

        We’ve taken this so far to the extreme that babies, children, the disabled, the poor and the elderly are devalued, shamed, ridiculed and considered disposable by our cultures because they don’t “produce”. Devalued by our cultures, yes, but, again, that makes them no less valuable.

        God gets to decide the value of people. Thankfully, he doesn’t assign the responsibility of deciding to fickle people. Though we do our best to take on that responsibility anyway!

        The fact that there is this generally low view of human life shows that the most “productive” and important ingredient of society is painfully missing. No amount of hours worked, scientific advancement, industrial improvement or church involvement can make up for the deficiency of LOVE.

        It all is literally pointless without love: the basic concern and action towards the best interest of others and obedience to God. Those who pride themselves in being “productive” but are unloving are completely devoid of productivity in the eyes of the only opinion that matters–God’s, of course.

        We are often so wrong in our assessments of others that it is shameful.

        God determines who lives and who dies. As long as people have breath in their lungs, there is a reason they’re here on the earth.

        Jesus said many who are last will be first and vice versa. It will one day all be laid bare. Many that our culture counted as useless and unproductive will be found to have out-produced the “productive” by miles.

        Those who are retired have much to give and need never feel an ounce of shame if they can’t do as much as they used to. God can use the smallest efforts in bigger ways than we can imagine.

        Love is the real currency. Money never was–Thank God! Love is the only thing that matters for eternity. A person who is bedridden and terminally ill can still show love, making an eternal difference.

        I think that many times, retired people have way more love to give. They have a more accurate and healthy view of life, death and eternity. They have time and sometimes resources to give. They aren’t distracted by the pressures of never-ending employment and raising a family. They can better focus on relationships and being there for others.

        Personally, Grant, it’s meant a lot that you’ve taken the time to share your thoughts on this blog. I appreciate your ideas, faith in Christ and courageous transparency. Our churches desperately need more of that. The truth is we all struggle a lot more with having the right perspective than we care to admit. We need each other to help us break through all the lies.

        Too often, transparency, which should be applauded, is met with a judgmental attitude. We end up with churches and societies full of people who live “quiet lives of desperation” as a result. No one wants to open up anymore or be honest because they’re afraid of being kicked while they’re down–again.

        Ok, that being said, here are a few specific thoughts about finding purpose in retirement.

        There are some things I don’t want to discount. Your routine (though you probably dreaded it at times when you were in the workforce like the rest of us) was very healthy for you. A new routine where you can regularly interact with people is crucial (even if you’re energized by being away from people). You need some things that require you to get out of the house even if, in case, your health isn’t optimal.

        Structure, interaction with others, a healthy diet, consistent exercise (even very small amounts), meaningful activities (a ministry, otherwise known as your personal exercise of God’s love in action) and time with God all are crucial.

        In regards to volunteering, why not start something on your own? It can be as simple as mentoring a younger guy, regularly having a family to your house for a meal, writing notes of encouragement or whatever else God directs you to do. That way, you don’t feel like a “lesser person” because you’re not paid staff. When you get out there and start a ministry, you’re always a crucial part of it. Do what you can and don’t overdo it. If you find the right ministry, it won’t feel like drudgery but will, instead, energize you.

        Even as I write these words, I know that God is working through me despite my many weaknesses (each child of God has a supernatural spiritual gift!). I know this is not me coming up with the words (unless I say something stupid!)–I am way too unimpressive for that. God works through me and manifests Himself through me.

        He will do the same through you and every other believer, manifesting your supernatural gift or gifts. Supernatural gifts are capable of blowing peoples’ minds because they are not you but are God working through you and despite you.

        Our weak “vessels” or “jars of clay” make those exercised gifts sparkle all the more!

        This blog is a way for me to exercise my spiritual gift. I couldn’t find that in the institutionalized church even as a pastor.

        As a pastor, I had little freedom to be honest when I spoke. I had to keep those paying my salary happy with “convenient” truth. Whenever I crossed the invisible line, I was reprimanded. I felt like a caged bird. And the caged bird doesn’t sing or so the saying goes. There were far too many people who were gladly willing to “shut me up” so I just stepped right on past them and started doing God’s work anyway.

        The church of the western world is mainly about a group of people coming to watch the pastor exercise his gift. What about the dozens, hundreds and thousands watching? Each one of them has a supernatural gift that too often just sits on the shelf as they become a spectator.

        Christianity is the furthest thing from a spectator sport but we’ve done our best to make it one!

        Millions sit on their spiritual gifts instead of using them. God’s children are stifled by a broken church system (the pastors are victims of the system, also). It costs so much money to keep the “machine” in operation and a lot of gifts never get used–sounds like a huge waste to me. Not to mention, the destitute are rarely helped like they could’ve been because of these big in-house budgets.

        Imagine if all those gifts became active. If all those resources became available. A revival like never before would break out around the world.

        People would come to Christ in droves because they wouldn’t be able to explain the love they witnessed in any other way. Those gifts are obviously the love and power of God working through frail, weak and unimpressive people.

        As it is, some churches are the most unloving places you can find anywhere. Is it any small wonder? You gather a big group of Christians together who aren’t empowered to make an eternal impact. Rather, that desire is stifled and suppressed. Many are unfulfilled and not fulfilling their mission (supernatural gifts are placed on the shelf). No wonder so many are unhappy!

        Grant, you don’t need permission from a religious body to do ministry (to do a good work) though a good church family will encourage you to do just that. The religious establishment tried to scold Jesus for healing on the Sabbath but he paid them no mind. More than ever, when I get scolded for doing a good work, I don’t pay the “haters” any mind either.

        There are a number of people who have tried to shut me up and discourage me as a Christian blogger. I’ve heard more than once that I’m not spiritual enough to run a spiritual blog!

        That’s funny to me for a number of reasons. First, because they’re right! I’m not spiritual enough–not even close! No one is. God uses weak people just like me all the time. All you have to be is willing.

        “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”

        Second, I’ve often been discouraged from ministry and seen others discouraged from ministry by the church establishment. That is very confusing to me for several major reasons.

        First, because we’re often considered unworthy by others to do good works. All that money creates a lot of politics. Pardon me, but aren’t good works what characterize a good person (a person controlled by God)? How is one ever to become good if we don’t release others to do good?

        Secondly, we discourage people from the very thing that transforms them and others–the exercise of their supernatural spiritual gifts.

        No one pays me to do what I do here and that provides a unique freedom. (I couldn’t have said what I just did from any church pulpit without getting the “what for!” 🙂 You can do the same. Whenever you want to do a good work, just do it and watch what God does through you!

        I’d say that the struggle to find purpose is a guarantee of life. For me, finding my place or specific purpose in life has been challenging and, too often, a downright dogfight. Every life transition is marked by this confusion all the more. Unfortunately, most have to struggle to find their mission or calling. All I can say, Grant, is keep struggling. I’ll pray for direction for you, too. The fact that you’re asking the tough questions means you’re on the right track.

        Lastly, no activity on earth will completely fulfill you. We were made for Heaven. That pain and longing can produce all kinds of good works and love as we lean on God’s strength to get us through. We know that the best is yet to come and that gives us hope!

  3. Judy Kronlein says :

    Your writing causes me to smile.

    1. So glad, Judy! 🙂

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