“The Pursuit of Happiness!”

Media Alert!

September 2022

Blog #35

Sue Summers


“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)

“The Pursuit of Happiness!”

It is intriguing that our Founding Fathers thought the “pursuit of happiness” was foundationally important for the citizens of our new nation. Read this statement from the Declaration of Independence written on July 4, 1776:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

The right to Life is self-evident. Liberty makes sense because the colonists were eager to break away from the tyrannical reign of the King of England… but “the pursuit of happiness” as an “unalienable right” endowed by their Creator is certainly surprising, visionary, and commendable given the Founders believed happiness came from virtue.

“Since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.” George Washington’s First Inaugural Address 1789

But what about “the pursuit of happiness” in 21st century America? Is happiness now only tethered to pleasant events of self-interest? Is seeking happiness now our mantra for life itself? Is that really the ultimate purpose of life?

Prior to the last century, happiness was the byproduct of a satisfied life for the average person – one that fulfilled the goals of hard work, a family, and a virtuous standing with neighbors, fellow workers, and the community.

Enter technology: radio, newspapers and magazines, television, advertising, movies, the Internet, social media, access to any and every form of entertainment, and the result is FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out! The desire to know, possess, and to experience “it all”, whatever that means, is the driving force behind many madcap “pursuits of happiness”, and the resulting disillusion from the failure to attain happiness can bring depression, substance and sexual addictions of all sorts, workaholic behavior, marital affairs, divorce, and even suicide.

And what does “being happy” really mean in today’s world? The common understanding of happiness seems to be gaining material possessions, enjoying exotic experiences, being popular with peers, and having a picture-perfect self-concept. Obviously, this is not what our Creator nor our Founding Fathers had in mind for an “unalienable Right”.

Often people miss the distinction between “happiness” and “joy”, thinking it is merely semantics. Happiness is based on external circumstances: positive relationships, owning the “toys” that make life exciting (jet skis, Porsches, vacation homes, yachts), enough money to impress others, the best job, perfect children, and a home that wows friends and family. But these things are out of reach for the vast majority of people and can’t guarantee “happiness”. Many of those who did achieve those things were not truly “happy” – just think of Howard Hughes, the Kennedy dynasty, Michael Jackson, Kate Spade, and many celebrities who, despite having fame and fortune, chose to end their lives.

By contrast, joy is internal, not based merely on external circumstances or fluctuating emotions. As the author states in “Joy VS Happiness: 11 Important Differences Between Each”:

“Joy is a selfless feeling of extreme happiness and pleasure. You may have joy when you care for others, are thankful or grateful, or have spiritual experiences. While joy often requires great self-sacrifice, you’ll feel lasting inward contentment and peace. Furthermore, this feeling may not be about yourself, but you may feel this way by helping others become more content.” (www.happierhuman.com/joy-vs-happiness)

The Bible has much to tell us about joy. Here are a few of the scriptures:

“You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Psalm 45:7)

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10-12)

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” (Galatians 5:22)

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

Serving the Lord and others results in a deeper connection and a sense of true joy, regardless of circumstances and the approval or disapproval of our peers. The goal of our lives cannot be happiness. It is fleeting and hard to measure, but the joy of the Lord results in peace and contentment.

Jesus gives us that promise in His prayer to the Father on our behalf: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (John 17:13)

So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?

Materialism is rampant in our culture. Advertising is ubiquitous, and glamorous images in the media continually bombard us depicting “the good life”. Help teens think beyond the moment and the “pursuit of happiness” with a different perspective through meaningful conversations. Here are some discussion starters:

• “Think of some times when you were truly happy. Describe one of those experiences and why you felt that way.”

• “Think of some times when you were truly joyful. Describe one of those experiences and why you felt that way.”

• “Think of the difference between happiness and joy. Let’s list ideas or feelings that could fall under each category.”

• “We are surrounded by images and messages of what will seemingly make us happy. What do you expect will make you truly happy in life?”

 • “Can you think of a commercial message that promises you happiness if you buy their product?”

• “How does advertising, in its many forms, cause us to desire more than we already have?”

• “Let’s discuss FOMO. Does social media add to this problem?”

• “Do you think material possessions and good circumstances will bring you happiness? Why or why not?”

• “How do you feel when you help others: family members, friends, or even strangers? Is it an external or internal sensation, or both?”

• “The Bible states in Romans 14:17: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ What do you think this means?”

Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a lesson for youth group gatherings.


Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker. She is the Director of Media Alert!

Contact info:

Blogs: http://www.MediaSavvyKids.org

Website: http://www.MediaAlert.org

Email: Sue@MediaAlert.org

#MediaSavvyKids, #ChristianParenting, #ChurchAndCulture, #YouthPastors, #YouthGroupCurriculum, #HelpForChristianParents, #TeensAndCulture, #AChangingCulture, #CriticalThinkingAndTeens, #IAmNotDefinedByTheCulture, #ThePursuitOfHappiness, #WhatIsHappiness, #ChristiansAndHappiness, #HappinessVsJoy

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© Sue Summers 2022

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