Mar22 2010

Is Happiness the Bottom Line?


“Everyone should have the right to do whatever makes them happy.”  How many times have you heard someone make a statement like that?  In fact, there is a good chance that you have even said it yourself.  Although it is not a new idea by any means it is, nevertheless, enjoying a great deal of popularity among our culture today.  It’s not hard to understand why it’s such a popular idea.  After all, who among us doesn’t wish to be happy?  But while this idea may sound reasonable and perfectly harmless at a glance, just a few minutes of thinking it over and following it to its logical conclusion exposes just how harmful this idea can really be.

What I find most disturbing is the number of people these days who have bought into this idea with such reckless abandon that in their insatiable thirst for happiness, they are apparently willing to overlook and even justify the most horrific examples of such faulty thinking.  For example, in three separate conversations that I had with three different students last year, I asked each of them this question, “When it comes to making decisions in your life about what is right or wrong, what do you base it on?”  They all predictably answered, “I base it on doing whatever makes me happy.”  I then asked each of them, “When you consider the events of the Holocaust and the fact that Hitler was exterminating millions of people and worked toward building a master race in the pursuit of his happiness, would you say that what Hitler did was right?”   In each conversation, the student looked at me and said without any hesitation, “Yes.  I guess it was right for him if it made him happy.”  In one of those conversations, I responded by saying, “I really do hope that you’re just being stubborn or that you’re just messing with me because if I thought for one moment that you were actually serious about your answer, I would have every reason to be afraid of you…..and so should everyone else.”

Recently when I was addressing a high school youth group regarding some cultural issues involving sexual promiscuity, I brought up the question of whether or not people should simply “do whatever makes them happy”.  Not wishing to risk using Hitler as my example again, I used the examples of  a student who steals from his classmates and a pedophile who molests children, both of which are examples of someone who is pursuing their own happiness.  One of the girls in the group raised an objection.  She pointed out to me that it really wasn’t fair for me to compare them, because in the case of the pedophile and the thief, they are both pursuing their happiness at the expense of someone else or doing harm to someone else, whereas in the matter of sexual promiscuity between two consenting people, this is not the case at all (although that is even debatable).

I responded to her by saying that I wasn’t trying to compare them, but rather, my intent was to point out some of the dangers of the “do whatever makes you happy” mentality.  I then asked her if she at least agreed with me that molesting children and stealing from someone is wrong.  She definitely agreed.  I further asked her if she agreed with me that we cannot and must not go around these days “throwing the door wide open”  by suggesting that “everyone has the right to do anything that makes them happy” -  that for us to make such broad, sweeping and open-ended statements would be both irresponsible and destructive.  Again, she agreed.  Next, I  asked her if it was reasonable to conclude from this that in the pursuit of one’s happiness, there has to be a limit.  She said, “Yes.”  I finally asked her, “When we say that there is a ‘limit’, aren’t we really saying that there must be a moral boundary line?” – She agreed.

This, of course, leaves us with the most important question of all: When it comes to drawing the boundary lines on ANY issue in life, who ultimately decides where those boundary lines are to be drawn?  Is it up to man, or is it up to God? If we make the mistake of leaving it up to man, I have no doubt that we will end up opening the door to a world that none of us will be able to endure.



2 Responses to “Is Happiness the Bottom Line?”

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  1. Robin says:

    This is so crucial in our cultural-I hope those students were being stubborn but I have to tell you I have heard a Jr. High TEACHER excuse Hitler's behavior due to poor nurture and a possible illness, rather than the evil it was. She wasn't hesitant to say he was "WRONG". So the students may actually have been under her at one point. I heard a quote… "I fear two things in this world… God, and the man who DOESN'T fear God".
    Wise.
    If we erase God's "moral line"… who then get's the right to redraw it? and where will it be drawn?
    ~Robin

  2. Absolutes versus Relatives is a growing problem in our culture. I find that I use culturally defined boundaries more often than I would like when making decisions or in my reactions.

    Great post.

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