Description: Why is it so hard to be happy?
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Happiness an Illusion?
by Ernest O’Neill
What is it that makes happiness so illusive? That is, why is it so hard to be happy all the time? It is,
isn’t it? In fact, most of us would say that where we used to think of unhappiness as an unpleasant,
unexpected interlude in an otherwise continual stream of happiness and happy experiences, many of us have now
turned the whole story right around. And we would say that the happy interludes are the unusual experiences.
Unhappiness is more the normal experience of our everyday life.
Why is that so? Why is it so hard for us to be happy? One of the phenomena that is most bewildering is that
you can determine as you lie in bed at night that tomorrow is going to be a happy day. You can say to
yourself, “I am going to be happy tomorrow. I am tired of this sadness. I am tired of this depression. I’m
tired of this worry and this anxiety. I am just going to be happy tomorrow, the way I used to be when I was
seven years of age.”
You get up in the morning and look out at the grey sky, and the rain pelting down, and immediately your heart
goes into your boots. It seems as if all happiness disappears, and all thought of happiness disappears.
There is something within you that automatically moves into depression, moves into feeling down in the dumps.
It seems as if you can do nothing about it.
Why is that so? Why is there a part of us that feels that we should be happy and feels we want to be happy
and tries to be happy, and yet there is another part of us that seems to be governed almost by strings like a
puppet or a marionette from outside? Why is that so? You must admit that you would tie the unhappiness so
often to the things that happen. That’s what somebody has said. Happiness seems to be satisfaction with what
happens to you — that’s what “happiness” is.
Unhappiness is dissatisfaction with the things that happen to you. Most of us would agree to that. We would
say, “Yes, the weather has an unbelievable influence on whether I’m happy or unhappy. If it’s a bright sunny
day, I feel entirely different inside. If it’s a rainy, cloudy day, I feel just as if I’m depressed, and more
depressed than I’ve ever been before in my entire life.”
It’s the same way if it’s the weekend. If the weekend is close by, if it’s Friday afternoon, we feel
happiness. “Good. Tomorrow is Saturday, and we’ll be off work. And the next day is Sunday, and we’ll be able
to do all kinds of things.” Whereas, if it’s Sunday night, and we’re in bed, we suddenly think, “Tomorrow.
Monday morning! Monday morning.” There seems to be a pall of grayness and gloomy blackness that descends upon
It happens to many of us as we come to September. If we’re involved in the academic world, in many ways
September is a stimulating time, and yet, in many ways, it’s the beginning of the old grind again. So for
those of us who have vacations, just the day before our vacation we are so happy, because we are looking
forward to the things that we think will happen to us. But, as we come to the end of vacation, you know the
almost overwhelming depression that begins to settle in upon us, so that we have to grit our teeth in order to
get back to work.
Now, why is there that dichotomy within us about happiness? Why is it that there is part of us that feels we
were made to be happy and filled with laughter and filled with smiles and filled at least, with peace and with
some excitement? Yet there is another part of us that gets continually gloomy and sad? What we have been
sharing over these months is that this problem, this phenomenon of this part of us that wants to be happy and
this part of us that wants to be so sad, reflects exactly reality.
Because there is a Creator behind this universe. There has to be when you look at the order and design of the
sky and the planets and seasons. This Creator has to be at least as personable as you and I are in order to
make up persons. Then you remember how we studied the life of that remarkable human being, who was more than
a human being in the first century of our era, the man called Jesus. He explained to us how the Creator was
actually His Father.
It was His Father’s will that we should be created and it was His Father’s will that we should live on this
earth. His Father intended us to do that so that we could enjoy His friendship, so that we could get to know
Him and He could get to know us, and so that we could live life together with Him so that it would be like
living it with the Owner of the Universe beside us.
If we did that, then there would be an immense sense of satisfaction and, indeed, joy that would come up from
within us. We would look at a flower; we would realize that our Father made that flower. He had control of us.
In the same way when we looked at a storm or anything that threatened us, we would think to ourselves, “Well,
our Father made that, so it cannot do anything to us that He does not think is good for us.”
So, there would be a whole attitude of happiness when we began to live our lives in fellowship or in
friendship with Him. So, we would experience all the excitement of the ski slopes because, of course, He
Himself is more exciting than the best ski slope. He is more exciting than the Matterhorn. He is more
exciting than the Rocky Mountains. He is more sensational than Niagara Falls. He is more gentle and peaceful
than the River Thames.
He is more happy, more joyous and delightful than the greatest comedian we know. The Creator is always more
than His creation. So, when you know the Creator, you know the heart of the real happiness that is in the
world. When you see a swallow and you see it soaring into the sky with absolute abandon, you see only a
little of the tremendous exhilaration that is in the heart of the Maker of the universe.
So, when you are close to Him and have a friendship with Him, then you share the happiness that He has. Of
course, we determined that we would not do that. We determined that we would live without His happiness, and
we would get happiness for ourselves. So, we began to look at the world of events and happenings and we
started to try to make them fall about in such a way that they would make us happy.
That’s why we want a faster car. That’s why we want a better motorbike. That’s why we want a faster boat,
behind which we can water ski. That’s why we have to get higher, if we can helicopter up to the top mountains
and get steeper ski slopes to go down, we’ll do it. That’s why we continually have to have a combination —
it’s interesting — of diverse events, different events and events that are the same.
We need something that is exciting and different, and yet we can’t stand too much of that. So, we need
something that is peaceful and gentle. That’s why so many of us go to the cocaine, or the crack or go to the
heroin. We need something to stir up our feelings, because we feel we were made to almost leap off a building
without hurting ourselves. We are always trying to reproduce that tremendous excitement that at times we have
felt in an orgasm; at times we felt when we’ve ridden a fast motorbike.
We’re always trying to reproduce that. That’s the side of us that is always trying to reproduce the happiness
that really can only be found in a living, dynamic friendship with the Maker of the Universe. Because He, of
course, can give us all the excitement of passing through space at immense speed. He can give us all the
wonder and peace of a Walden Pond just by the peace of our hearts is His. But because we have turned from Him,
we’ve had to try to find it in the world of events and happenings.
That is why we have now a nature that is almost enslaved to excitement, enslaved to happy events, a nature
that continues to desire more and more happiness and never somehow, can find enough. That’s part of the reason
why we find within us a Jekyll and Hyde nature. One part of us that wants to depend on God for our happiness
and another part of us that wants to depend on the exciting experiences that we can produce in this world for
Is there any way in which we can escape from this nature that has become part of us down through the centuries
and down through the years of our own lives? Yes, there is. There is an amazing event that delivered us from
that. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.