Are you happy or unhappy with your life? If you sat down and made a list of reasons why you are happy or unhappy, chances are, you will be able to find a variation of four things that you need for happiness. I’m not usually one to try and boil down life to some formulaic approach to fulfillment. However, I think in this case, in general terms, we can self-assess our lives to discover what contributes to or takes away from our happiness. I’m not going to give you a pop culture answer like, “All you need is love.” Nor will I give you a pat religious answer like, “All you need is Jesus.” Love may be supreme and Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love—and you need both for eternal happiness. But what I’d like to do is present four things that are necessary for human happiness in this life, right now. I believe that God has wired us in this way, whether you are a Christian or not.
Happiness is important. Happiness is not the be all and end all of existence. In fact, happiness should not be the primary pursuit of our lives because happiness is best seen as a byproduct and not a pursuit. But that doesn’t mean that happiness isn’t important. If we are happy in our work then getting up in the morning to go to work isn’t a chore for us. If we are happy in our home life then we look forward to being home and spending time with the ones we love. The catch is knowing where our happiness comes from. If we can know what we need to be happy then we can self-assess to find out if we have what we need, or if we are missing happiness by missing one or more of the four elements necessary to happiness. So, allow me to wax philosophical for a moment as I define the basic elements of happiness, why they are important, and then present you with biblical examples for these four elements. Let’s get started.
There are four elements to human happiness. These elements must be present in the areas of life we experience in order to bring us a state of happiness. They are:
- Being—having to do with existence
- Function—having to do with the activity of existence
- Purpose—having to do with the reason for function
- Meaning—having to do with the value and significance of purpose
Being is a no-brainer. No one can be happy without existence. However, it is good to mention this here because there are some philosophies of life that regard being, or existence, as illusion. Under such philosophy you don’t need any of the other three to attain happiness. Your goal becomes conscious non-existence. I won’t dive into the theology here but simply just say that being is necessary to happiness.
Function is necessary to happiness because human beings are hard wired to find satisfaction in doing things. This could refer to a career, or personal relationships, or even hobbies. All of us need functions to perform of some kind in order to experience happiness. In a moment I’ll demonstrate from Genesis why this is true.
Function by itself is not enough to bring personal satisfaction. The function we engage in must have a purpose or need that it meets. A brief example or two: A doctor’s purpose is to heal. When someone is ill, even gravely ill, their function is impaired and perhaps even their being is in jeopardy. Purpose is not ethereal, but practical. A mother’s purpose is to provide for her children. If a child’s function is to grow, that child needs a parent or guardian to fulfill their purpose in that role.
Finally, whatever purpose or need we are meeting must have meaning to us. This is a little subjective in that what one person finds meaning in may be different from what another person values. Not everyone finds significance in the same thing. In this sense the significance we feel in whatever role we are in is personally assessed and applied. I find great value in my work as a media missionary. But my wife finds no value in that to her. Her significance comes elsewhere.
At any time that we do not possess one or more of these four things we find ourselves dissatisfied with life. There are many reasons why we might experience this, but the most important reason these can be disconnected from us is sin. Sin is not only a violation of God’s law and character, it also violates our function, our purpose, and personal meaning. A person who is lazy and refuses to partake in a useful function cannot have a sense of purpose or experience higher meaning. Sometimes the sin of others imposes on us a break in one or more of these four elements. Take work as an example. During World War II the Nazi’s sometimes gave prisoners the task of shoveling a mound of dirt from one place to the next, then the next day they would have to do it all over again, shoveling the dirt back to its original location. This would go on for weeks, shoveling dirt back and forth until the prisoner had a mental break down. Why? Because while they had being and function their worked served no useful purpose and thus had no meaning. Purpose and meaning are critical components to happiness.
I think that God has wired us in such a way that these four elements are necessary for us to find happiness or satisfaction in life. I get this from the Bible, in Genesis 1 and 2. First, God made man (that’s being, existence). Second, God gave the man a function (caring for creation, keeping it in order). Third, that function served a useful purpose. Without the function of keeping the garden it would have grown wild and become unmanageable. That is legitimate purpose. The work God assigned Adam had value and significance. In other words, Adam would find meaning in his work.
Adam, however, still needed relationship beyond his relationship with God, so God made Eve. This is why Genesis 2 describes Eve as his “helper.” God gave her being. Her function was to help Adam. Her function had real purposebecause it met a real need in Adam’s life (and her’s). And thus, she would find meaning in her role.
As long as these things were not violated Adam and Eve found satisfaction in their lives. Genesis 2:25 could imply that they were happy in that they did not experience any shame in their pre-sin condition.
The Unhappy Couple
When Adam and Eve sinned it had a terrible effect on their happiness, specifically, on their being, function, purpose, and meaning. Briefly, God told them they would eventually die for their sin. That corrupted their being. They were driven out of the garden and told that the ground would not yield for them in the same way it did in the garden. That corrupted their function. They would still have purpose in that their function of growing food fulfilled a necessary function, but it would also be frustrating to them. That effects purpose and meaning.
We can take these four elements and apply them to other people in scripture: Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, even Jesus and see how these things worked out or became frustrated apart from their relationship with God. Go ahead and look at these lives and you can trace these four elements applied to them.
Are You Happy?
What about your life? Are you happy? If you were to sit down and write out these four things and apply them to your family, spouse, career, hobbies, or other relationships, what would you find? Is sin corrupting any of these areas in your life? Are your perspectives askew so that you cannot recognize these elements in what you do or what you are?
Though I’m not an advocate for the health and wealth gospel, I do think there is legitimacy in the notion that God wants us to be happy. But that happiness must come in the way which God has intended for us to operate in his creation. Some people are happy without God. These four elements apply whether you know your Creator or not. But, ultimately, God’s design is for a happiness that is acquired by following his will and by knowing him in meaningful relationship. Without that our happiness is only temporary. But with Christ, we will eventually experience a happiness that never ends, in Heaven, when he restores these four elements to their rightful place in our lives, in his kingdom.