Just “A Nation of Joyless Lottery Winners”?

Courtesy of guest blogger, Marty Swant

It’s funny the way we can shape our mind into looking forward to a set of “if only’s.” It sounds like this: “If only I get this job, ______” or “If only I can get coffee with her, _______” or “If only I can have one more _________.” You get the idea. In our daily routine, we so often daydream about what we need to make us happy, or what we need to feel a sense of fulfillment. But as often as we might or might not reach out to grasp what seems to be our hope’s deepest desire, something else seems to jump just ten meters in front of us, begging our attention. It’s almost like we’re addicted to the search for happiness and contentment. We’re hoping to quench our thirst by running to the mirage of an oasis in the desert, but we never reach.

C.S. Lewis puts the question like this: “Does it matter to a man dying in the desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?”

A while back I read a March 22 book review in The New Yorker magazine. The article, “Everybody Have Fun,” by Elizabeth Kolbert, discussed two books about the research of happiness and also what we can learn from its findings.

Kolbert first mentions a group of psychologists who in 1978 found that lottery winners found far less pleasure in daily activities–such as shopping–than a group of accident victims. But Kobert says it isn’t only winning the lottery that fails to provide lasting joy: “A whole range of activities that people tend to think will make them happy–getting a raise, moving to California, having kids–do not, it turns out, have that effect.”

Ok, so that was in the 1970s. You might be asking: How is that relevant to my life today?

Kolbert says that the number of people who considered themselves happy back then is the same as now, even as GDP has doubled and we have Steve Jobs to thank for gadgets like iPhones and iPads. Why haven’t things gotten better in terms of our emotional stability? Why has the United States remained “a nation of joyless lottery winners”?

One possibility, she writes, is the theory of the “‘hedonic treadmill,'” which says that people continually “adjust to improved situations.” When you buy one thing, your new state of happiness is the same as before, but our “expectations ramped upward.” Another hypothesis is that we are all relativists and are only interested in being better off than our neighbor.

In one of the books she reviews, a shocking study points out that job loss is particularly devastating to happiness, even more so than divorce or separation. Disheartening is this rat race that gets us no farther than a hamster on a treadmill. Upon hearing findings like these, we might think there is no hope.

But when we look to the Bible to see the wisdom God’s word has on finding true joy and satisfaction, we find it’s not that true love and joy don’t exist, but only that we’ve been aiming our desires on the wrong target.

If we look at the story of Solomon in the Ecclesiastes, he tells us of how he searched through everything in all of creation to find joy and meaning in life. Yet, even he—a king, the wisest (other than Jesus) and richest man to ever exist on earth—found everything to be meaningless. He examined love, wealth, wisdom, power, and anything else our hearts think they desire. All was like a vapor. Seen dimly, yet always evading his grasp to fulfillment.

“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

So if the man who had it all couldn’t find satisfaction in worldly things, what hope do we have? There is one thing, Solomon found, that does provide meaning, purpose, and life: putting his hope in God, who is the creator of all things and the only one who does not fade away.

It can be so dangerously tempting to seek ultimate satisfaction in everyday comforts. Not that these are wrong to enjoy, but if we value them more than we value Jesus we begin loving them more than God, and change them into a false god that cannot live up to its promises. We must love God so much and seek to cherish him above all else, to a degree that everything in our life looks like garbage when compared to the joy we find in Christ. One of my favorite passages explaining this is by the apostle Paul, who says this:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:8).

In Psalm 19, Solomon’s father, King David, exclaims that the word of God is “more to be desired.. than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). If only we could value God’s word as much as he did thousands of years ago, how much joy we would find!

My prayer is that we all will see Christ as the only treasure that does not fade, does not deceive, does not let us down. Jesus promises to bring us joy that nothing can match, and he will never let us down.

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About Colleen Kelly

I graduated from Mizzou in May '09 with an English degree and joined staff with Veritas soon after. I'm originally from St. Louis, but love living in Columbia. Things I love: reading (anything and everything), walking, being outside, coffee, conversation, theology, exploring, saturdays, and adventures.
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