‘Happiness is just a moment before you need more happiness’.
So said hit US show Mad Men’s mysterious protagonist, Don Draper.
This series is jam-packed with complex, interesting characters, but it is undeniably Don who steals the show. Don Draper is good-looking, smart, successful and (generally) a loving father. He is the quintessential Alpha Male- the men want to be him and the women want to be with him. To everyone around him, Don lives the 1960s American Dream. But you only have to watch a couple of episodes to see that he is also a prolific cheating husband, an alcoholic and a liar. His entire existence is a lie, but the truth of his past is forever nipping at his heels. No matter how successful Don becomes, how much alcohol he consumes, or how gorgeous his wife and lovers are- it is never enough. Nothing heals the pain of his youth; nothing satisfies the hollowness, and he knows it.
You’re probably wondering why I’m banging on about a fictional character.
Despite the show’s exaggeration, its characters illustrate the complexity of human nature and our inability to escape from ourselves. Don Draper’s remark on happiness is a reflection on how we have all felt over and over again; that the very word holds so much promise, yet is fundamentally unsatisfying.
The magic and hype in the run-up to Christmas comes to mind. Have you ever found that Christmas Day falls short of expectation? Have you ever felt a bit of an anticlimax once all the presents have been opened, wrappings strewn everywhere, and the mountains of food you have consumed are anchoring you to your couch?
Let’s go back to Don Draper’s quote for a second.
‘Just a moment before you need more happiness’.
In other words, happiness is a transient thing. Immediately after being grasped, it is gone, and the search for it begins again. It doesn’t matter how you found it- it will inevitably disappoint you with its inability to stick around. Our expectations and reality never quite match up- it’s not that whatever we find happiness in is intrinsically disappointing, but that our capacity to enjoy it is limited. Christmas Day is normally above average in the general scheme of things; we’re just not cut out to find as much pleasure in it as we’d like to.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon- a man who was blessed with extravagant wealth and status, looks back on his pursuit of happiness, and exclaims that ‘everything is meaningless.’
The ability to enjoy the moments of happiness in life, whether big or small, is good and God-given. But I think we have a bigger purpose on this earth than to chase those moments until we die.
For one thing, this mindset makes it impossible to fully enjoy what we already have. Several times I’ve caught myself living in a way that prioritises the future over the now. I often find it difficult to simply live in the moment; my mind is always jumping ahead to the next thing. Maybe this is just me, but I think it’s a part of our culture as a whole, too. We’ve become so used to being spoon-fed with entertainment and stimulation that we’re pretty much incapable of finding satisfaction in everyday living. I’m digressing- this could be a whole separate post, but I do think this frantic search for fulfilment and completion is a good indicator that our culture is very much dissatisfied.
This year has been one of the best of my life, which is especially amazing because the previous year was probably the hardest. I was truly happy, but still there were days of general rubbish-ness. And you know what? That’s OK! We live in an imperfect world. Accepting that life isn’t about being in a continuous state of bliss is one of the best things I could have done for my overall happiness.
My point is, if we base our existence on finding happiness, we’re like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. We can get our refills as often as we like but that pesky hole is going to ensure we’re always left wanting more.
I believe that we were designed for intimacy with the One who created us. For me, this has turned my perspective around completely- I recognise that my deepest longing is actually for closeness with God and for eternity in Heaven. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be happy, it just means that happiness is put into its proper place.
Jesus didn’t come to Earth in humility, die and rise again to bring us happiness, but eternal hope through salvation. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s something far better.