What would you say the ultimate goal of life is? What would our society say the ultimate goal of life is?
I think the obvious answer is happiness. A recent Barna survey revealed that 67% of church-going Christians believe “enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” Thankfully that percentage is lower than the 84% of Americans who agree with the statement, but it is concerning, considering the call of Christ on all of our lives is call to die to ourselves and a call to carry His cross. It seems Christians do more to reflect society than to subvert it by faithfully following Jesus.
But there’s a problem with this foundational approach to life: it isn’t working. We’ve made the enjoyment of life our goal and we’re not getting any happier. Recent information shows the per capita Gross Domestic Product (the amount of total money produced) for the United States increasing every year, yet Gallup polls show the level of happiness for Americans remains unchanged in recent decades and dropping in the most recent years. We have more money than ever, and we aren’t any happier.
On top of this, life expectancy in the United States has dropped for each of the last 3 years, the first time this has happened since the 1960s. Sociologists use life expectancy as an overall barometer for a society’s overall health. The general headline writes itself: with happiness as our highest goal, we are becoming unhappy.
Why is this? I would submit that we aren’t created for happiness to be our foundational goal in life. It should be an outcome, but it cannot be the goal.
In his exceptional book The Hacking of the American Mind, Robert Lustig says that we’ve misunderstood happiness to be about moment to moment pleasures, but happiness in our brains is actually contentment. Contentment isn’t something we can consume or take part it, it’s produced through a posture of living.
In Luke 12, Jesus shares the example of a rich man who seeks after a life where he can, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). What does Jesus say about this man? “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20). Jesus says it is foolish to run after a life of pleasure and enjoyment as the foundational goal of life.
Thankfully Jesus explains a better way: “But seek his kingdom, and these things (the things we need) will be given to you as well.”
A life of contentment in God and what he provides is the foundation for life that we were created for. You can trace this theme in the Bible all the way to Adam and Eve in the Garden. What was it they wanted? Adam and Eve sought out the pleasure of being like God, instead of being content with all He had given.
It’s so easy to seek after a life of comfort, ease, and pleasure. Yet it’s quite clear this is a life of ultimate emptiness. Seek Christ, follow His Way, find true, deep, and meaningful enjoyment.