Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wanna be happy?

Last night I watched the movie Happy. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Everyone who longs to live life in all its fullness needs to see this movie. It takes a look at people around the world who are happy, from a man who pulls a rickshaw in India to a former debutante in Texas, and identifies what it is about their lives that contributes to their happiness.

This is one of those movies that doesn’t really teach me anything I didn’t know before, but the fact that it reinforces what I already know simply underscores the truth it speaks. Of course, its message stands in stark contrast to the values of the culture around us. We’re immersed in a world that tries to convince us happiness can be achieved by amassing a bunch of stuff and proving our worth by leaving our competitors in the dust. But there is no evidence to prove that this is true. Instead, once people have enough to meet their basic needs, having more has no link to happiness. The path to happiness is found through relationships with other people, through community and cooperation. It’s by living authentically and freely, without conforming to what everyone else expects of you. And, most notably, happiness comes to those who cultivate compassion, giving their lives for the sake of others.

This is not a “Christian” movie. But, as a Christian, I couldn’t help noticing how compatible its message is with the message of Jesus. Maybe it’s not the message many Christians have pinned on Jesus in an effort to defend their own life choices, but it is the message Jesus clearly lived and taught. And that’s what makes Jesus “the way, the truth, and the life.” Not because no one else has the truth, but because his message is, at its core, a truth that transcends all truths. It's the Jesus Way. That’s not to say that it is a way of life only found among Jesus' followers. Although this movie was full of stories about people who live the Jesus Way, many of them probably don't know a thing about Jesus. Jesus was all about leading people to life, real life in all its fullness, what this movie calls happiness. You don't have to be a follower of Jesus to find that happiness, although it is the certainly where the Jesus Way leads.

I think about the rich guy who comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to eternal life. This is not just about how to get to heaven someday after he dies. This is a present-tense conversation; it’s about how to experience the abundant life here and now. And Jesus has an answer. He tells the rich guy to sell what he has and give the money to the poor. That is, stop living for yourself and discover the happiness the compassionate life can bring you. In so many ways, Jesus taught this truth to his followers. “Blessed are the poor…” “Anyone who wants to save their life must first lose it…” “If anyone asks for your coat, give them you cloak as well…” It’s the truth of a man who allowed others to put him to death for the sake of compassion.

The great lie of capitalism is that you will be able to buy happiness. If we all suddenly decided that we were quite content with what we had and didn’t need any more stuff to be happy, would the economy collapse? I don’t know. But that's why our American self-identification as a Christian nation seems so ironic to me. If following the Jesus Way is what it means to be a Christian, we are most assuredly not a Christian nation.

Happy left me wondering why this is so hard for us. We all want to be happy. And yet, we continue to resist what makes us truly happy. Why?

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