Finding Happiness In An Unlikely Place

10-P2-flat-.jpg.115x72_q85_cropGood gifts are hard to find. It seems that around birthdays or Christmas everyone is looking for that perfect gift to buy their friend or family member. I’m here to help. The gift I’m recommending isn’t necessarily personal but I promise that it will help them find happiness. It’s a watch that will help them remember that they will die. One hand reads “remember” and the other “you will die”.

Is this some kind of sick (or just dumb) joke? How can remembering that you will die bring happiness?

Let’s start with the undeniable biblical truth that our life here isn’t as long as we tend to think it is. In fact James 4:4 calls our life “a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes.” We say that teenagers are careless or make reckless decisions because they think they are indestructible and will live forever. The truth is that we are all a lot more like than we think. Yes, on one level we know that we will die. We’re not dumb. Obituaries and graveyards testify to the fact that no one lives forever. But on another level (I think a more important gut level) we think that we have plenty of time left in this world.

The gap between what we intellectually know to be true (We will die sooner than we think.) and how we actually live (I’ve got plenty of life left!) keeps us from making decisions that lead to our happiness. In an article that appeared in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, Arthur Brooks refers to a study that appeared in the journal Science. Led by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, the researchers investigated the difference between what people claimed make them happy and how they actually spent their time.

The women reported deriving more satisfaction from prayer, worship and meditation than from watching television. Yet the average respondent spent more than five times as long watching TV as engaging in spiritual activities.

If anything, this study understates the misalignment problem. The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in 2014, the average American adult spent four times longer watching television than “socializing and communicating,” and 20 times longer on TV than on “religious and spiritual activities.” The survey did not ask about hours surfing the web, but we can imagine a similar disparity.

So we say that certain things bring happiness but then spend our time on all kinds of other things that we say don’t really bring us happiness. Why? Brooks posits that the disconnect is due to the fact that we forget that our time is limited.

Maybe some examples will help. If your kid is a freshman in high school and you knew you had 3 family vacations left with them, how would you spend them? If you knew that your mom or dad had only 3 more years to live, what would you want to say to them? If you knew that you only had ten years left to live, would you invest in remodeling your house or investing any extra money in supporting a missionary?

Reflecting on the nearness of your death isn’t intended to depress you. Just the opposite. Knowing that one day soon we will die helps us use our time and spend our life in a way that will truly make us happy. Whether you buy the watch or not, think often about your death so that you will find happiness in the new year.

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