If only I can find happiness—this is the sigh of millions, if not billions, around the globe. If I can find happiness, life will no longer be so without purpose, without direction, without depth and meaning. I will no longer be without hope.
For many this becomes the driving force in their lives—finding happiness. The pursuit of happiness. We make movies about it, write books about it, give talks about it, lecture and teach on the subject. We spend every awake moment of our day chasing this dream—this chimera. If only I have enough money—then I’ll be happy. If only I am promoted. If only I can become the supervisor, the manager, the vice president, the CEO—life will be better. If only I can get the new car, the new boat, the new house—I will be happy.
Only to discover, when we get there—we’re not happy. We never get to taste bliss. Often, we want more. And, no surprise, we remain unhappy. Perhaps because contentment doesn’t lie in things.
In our relentless pursuit of finding this evading happiness, and our lives often spiral out of control—soon, life not only sucks, we’ve become stuck. We sink deeper into an emotional quicksand—we’re lowered into a darkened pit, bit by bit. And before we know it—there’s no escape.
We don’t have to look far to find examples of hopelessness.
If not in our own lives, then in that of our family, our friends or co-workers, our neighborhood or city, in our nation’s life or at least in our neighbors’ lives.
- Even for people not residing in the US (like Canadians), the recent 2016 presidential election was on everybody’s radar. It was impossible not to experience the outpouring of emotions across the country in the aftermath of the prolonged battle. The last word on this has not been spoken.
There was widespread jubilation, but the despair among millions of Americans was, and still is, visceral—palpable. Many used the hashtag, #ElectionGrief. And yet, everything is not lost. There is hope.
What do US pastors and ministers have to say? What will they preach now? How will they encourage the people again? Especially among minority-group congregations. Several pastors interviewed voiced concern about the public outpouring of despair as if expecting the end of the world. Others preach about, “How Not to Fall Apart.” Some are hosting times of reflection, lament, prayer and support. According to Samuel Rodriquez, the present problem in the US doesn’t stem from the election, but from “a church divided by race, political agendas, and personalities.” The challenge, according to Aaron Damiani, in “this age of rage and fear,” is one of accepting the challenge to “stand out and exhibit the humility and love of Christ.” Easier said than done—but not impossible.
- The plight of the low-income worker is a painful reminder of how evasive the “American dream” has become. For many, worldwide, it is just that, a dream. Poverty leaves one with more than a bad taste in the mouth and a grumbling stomach—it robs one often of hope.
J.D. Vance, a former Marine and Yale Law School graduate, gave a TED talk in September 2016 titled, America’s forgotten working class. He grew up in a dysfunctional family in an impoverished city in Ohio—the odds to ever achieve anything, were stacked against him. His lived in a community where heroin use, drug addiction, cynicism, and pessimism was in the order of the day. Life was a daily struggle. If you survived this, you repeated the cycle.
As a young boy, he was often surrounded by this overwhelming sense of hopelessness. The pervading message and belief were, your choices don’t matter, whatever you decide, it doesn’t matter—you’re stuck. A grandmother who got her life together and sorted out, and believed in him, changed that vicious downward spiral.
- Last night I had the privilege of attending a fundraising banquet by Teen Challenge Manitoba, in the basement of Calvary Temple, in Winnipeg. The meal was superb—in one word, world class. It was the accompanying program that delivered the punch (alcohol-free.) Year-long students from the Teen Challenge program provided an evening of song, music, and witnessing, all with their own band and choir.
These were all students, men, and women, who were on their way to recovery, restoration, and healing after years of struggle with drug abuse, addiction, and hopelessness. The program’s primary goal is to help students find hope with addiction. It was incredible listening to students, sharing the small victories they now experience, recounting how it became possible to stand up again and discover self-worth.
Many after a life almost lost, of a wasted youth and adolescence, a young adult life squandered away, dragged into drug trafficking, drug use, drug abuse, addiction, sexual abuse and eventually ending up on the streets, pushing needles up their veins in an attempt to escape the pain of a life without meaning—a life of apparent hopelessness.
It was incredible—listening for over two hours to stories of hope—of new life, of new beginnings. What made it even more remarkable was to experience and see, in person, how former addicts were reconciled with loved ones, with family members.
How can we escape a life that sucks?
How do we find happiness? How do we find hope?
Happiness isn’t found in stuff, in things. It is found in the psyche, in the soul of man. We have to find it in ourselves, in people and by learning to appreciate life as we know it. And unless we address that, that essence, we’ll miss the mark.
Many programs offer only self-help, self-realization. Some offer psychotherapy and with or without medication.
Perhaps it’s time to realize that programs like Teen Challenge and AA work because they go deeper—deep enough to touch the soul of man. It is interesting to see how the medical world struggle at large to not only explain, but acknowledge the success of Alcoholics Anonymous—claiming that recovery follows “quasi-religious/spiritual” means. It is interesting to note that a recent study was able to show with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), how prayer by AA members lead to a change in neural mechanisms with a reduction in craving.
All is not lost—we can win the war on hopelessness. According to J.D. Vance, we have to be willing to ask better questions—uncomfortable questions—and then be willing to answer them.
We can give our children hope for the future. We can help adults discover that it is possible to live a better life again—one rich with meaning and purpose.
This doesn’t mean life will be easy—not at all. It will remain hard. But help is available. You are not alone—all you have to do is reach out.
Life doesn’t need to suck.
Thank you for reading! If this post resonated with you, please share or leave a comment.
- Galanther et al. An initial fMRI study on neural correlates of prayer in members ofAlcoholics Anonymous. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2016 Mar 25:1-11.
- Kelly JF. Alcoholics Anonymousreligious, spiritual, neither? Findings from 25 years of mechanisms of behavior change research. 2016 Oct 8. doi: 10.1111/add.13590